The Monday Agenda 10/28/2013

MondayAgendaNot a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

How did I do with last week’s agenda?

Science fiction, contemporary fiction, YA fiction, and a graphic novel — what a fun week it’s been!

incrementalistsgood wife

Reality BoyRASL

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White: Done! My review is here.

How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman: Done! My review is here.

Reality Boy by A. S. King: Done! My review is here.

RASL by Jeff Smith: This newly released hardcover compilation of Jeff Smith’s RASL comic series is about parallel universes, art theft, Nikola Tesla, quantum physics, and government conspiracies, among other things. Plus there’s a very creepy little girl, lots of desert landscapes, and plenty of sex and violence. In other words, not for kids! Jeff Smith is the creator of one of my all-time favorites, the Bone series, which my son and I both love. RASL is not one that I’ll be sharing with him any time soon! That said, I really enjoyed RASL. It’s mind-bendy, twisty, smart, and fast-paced, with a great hero and plenty of food for thought to go with all that action. If you like a good graphic novel every once in a while, check it out!

The Expeditioners by S. S. Taylor: Such a great kids’ adventure story! The end is in sight…

Fresh Catch:

I’m still respecting my self-imposed reading diet — no reading books from my shelves (or the library’s shelves) until I catch up on all of my review copies! I did get one new book this week, preordered some time ago:

17333261

Argh! It’s so hard to be good!

What’s on my reading agenda for the coming week?

This week I’ll be reading:
Parasite (Parasitology, #1)Palace of SpiesThe Tulip Eaters

I’ve just started Parasite by Mira Grant. This is going to be a good one!

Once I’m done, next up will be two more review books:

  • Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel
  • The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Heugten

Bellman & Black: A Ghost StoryAnd if by some miracle I get through all of these (which is unlikely), then I’ll move on to Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield, which I’ve really been looking forward to.

Believe it or not, after these four books, I’ll be caught up (for now!), and can start sprinkling in some of my new on-my-shelves books in between upcoming review copies! Oh, happy day!

So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.

boy1

Book Review: Reality Boy by A. S. King

Book Review: Reality Boy by A. S. King

Reality Boy

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.

Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.

In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved.

I don’t know why, but I picked up this book expecting something a bit on the whimsical side. Maybe shades of The Truman Show, but grittier and without Jim Carrey.

But. Wow. I was wrong. No whimsy to be found in Reality Boy.

This is a hard and upsetting and disturbing book. Not to say that it’s not also powerful and compelling. But boy, did this one knock me for a loop.

For starters, the early chapters are just uncomfortable to read and left me feeling kind of squicked out.

The synopses are all a big vague, but the truth is this: Gerald had a horrific childhood, terrified by an older sister who took every opportunity to torment Gerald and his other sister, even to the point of attempted drownings and suffocations. And Gerald’s parents, instead of protecting him, were either absent or willfully ignored the facts staring them in the face. To deal with it, Gerald’s mother invited Network Nanny into their home, who set above trying to instill proper behavior in Gerald and his sisters via reward charts and 24-hour cameras. Little Gerald, five years old and simply not being heard, acts out in the only ways he can. He gets angry, he punches holes in the walls, and when he still gets no protection against his crazy sister, starts… umm… protesting in a way that earns him the indelible nickname of The Crapper.

Oh, it’s nasty.

What’s worse is that all of this is being filmed and broadcasted, and those scenes of Gerald acting out live on forever on YouTube.

So when the book opens and we first meet Gerald, he’s an angry, angry 17-year-old who has no friends, who’s still referred to by schoolmates as The Crapper, and who’s been relegated to the special ed classroom because of his violent streak. But when he meets Hannah, an equally messed up kid who works at the sports center concession stand with him, Gerald finally starts to envision a life in which he may actually get what he wants. A life in which death or jail are not the only options — and a life where he might actually find friendship and possibly even love.

This book is just painful to read. The amount of suffering Gerald endures is unimaginable, and to then have his humiliations made so public compounds all of his problems to the nth degree. I was just infuriated by Gerald’s parents, who shrugged their shoulders and allowed all of this happen, both during the filming of the TV show and in all the years since, during which the oldest sister continues to demonstrate a huge sadistic streak and still retains her parents’ support and affection.

Author A. S. King draws Gerald as a multi-layered young man. He’s much more than just his anger. Underneath his ready-to-snap facade is a boy who has been deeply wounded and who feels that he needs to wrap himself in an invisible layer of plastic and war paint just to make it through each day. And when life gets too intense, he retreats into the imaginary world inside his head, where the streets are paved with ice cream and marshmallows and he and his nice sister live without fear. The downside of having a girlfriend, Gerald finds out, is that she expects you to actually be present — and being with Hannah is what finally forces Gerald to face his present and start making the demands for himself that someone should have made for him long, long ago.

This is an intense and upsetting book. I’m a peaceful person, but I wanted to punch walls on Gerald’s behalf. The neglectful parenting here is just appalling. Gerald’s family is well-off and lives in a lovely home in a gated community — but that outward security does nothing for a small boy who is terrorized continuously whenever the adults’ backs are turned. I really hated reading parts of this book, seeing how the clueless parents failed to protect their son and then made it so much worse by allowing his most humiliating moments to be preserved forever in the media and Internet.

At the same time, over the course of the novel we see Gerald finally start to emerge from a hopeless, angry existence into a life where he just might have a future, and where happiness might actually be attainable. Watching Gerald discover the possibility of a different way of living is lovely and inspiring. This is a boy who deserves to finally have something good happen to him!

Along the way, the criticism of today’s reality TV culture is unavoidable, and as Gerald points out repeatedly, what you saw on TV isn’t what really happened. Here’s a boy who was forever scarred by, essentially, a bad edit. How many other people’s lives are recorded, edited, and twisted for the benefit of public consumption? How can people allow cameras to follow them 24/7 and then believe that it’s a good thing? How can living under a microscope, with all of one’s mistakes and embarrassing moments preserved forever, possibly be healthy for any child, much less the adults in their lives?

We don’t meet any other child “stars” of reality TV, so the message isn’t necessarily universalized as much as it might be, but the author makes clear just how much damage can be done for the sake of a moment or two in the spotlight. Adults have a choice; children don’t. I’m not a fan of reality TV in any case, but after reading Reality Boy, I don’t think I’ll be able to even think about children on TV without a shudder or two.

A. S. King’s previous works include Ask The Passengers (which I reviewed here) and several other highly acclaimed books for young adults. Her gift for getting inside the heads of troubled, complex teens is remarkable, and her stories flow and demand every bit of your attention. I’ll be looking forward to whatever she writes next.

__________________________________________

The details:

Title: Reality Boy
Author: A. S. King
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Review copy courtesy of Little, Brown via NetGalley

The Monday Agenda 10/21/2013

MondayAgendaNot a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

How did I do with last week’s agenda?

What with one thing and another, it’s been a pretty slow (but fun) reading week:

Longbournbad housesincrementalists

Longbourn by Jo Baker: Done! I loved this inside-out look at the world of Pride and Prejudice, as told from the perspective of the Bennets’ servants. My review is here.

Bad Houses by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil: Done! A quick and engaging graphic novel. My preview of this upcoming new release is here.

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White: Still reading — about 70 pages to go. A lot of the virtual reality stuff is going pretty much over my head, but it’s still interesting and puzzling enough for me to keep going and see if I can make it all make sense.

The Expeditioners by S. S. Taylor: My read-aloud book with my son — going great! I think we have another week or two to go.

Fresh Catch:

I’m still trying to be good and stick to the plan of finishing off all my current (and a teeny bit late) review books before digging into all the new books begging to be read. Meanwhile, two of my requests came in at the library this week:

The Rosie ProjectRASL

Two very different books, but I’m looking forward to both!

What’s on my reading agenda for the coming week?

Still sticking with my commitment to focus on review copies, this week I’ll be reading:

incrementalistsgood wife
Reality BoyParasite (Parasitology, #1)

First, I’ll be trying to finish up with The Incrementalists. And after that, I have a few more books lined up that I’m excited about:

  • How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman
  • Reality Boy by A. S. King
  • Parasite by Mira Grant

I realize that I’m being overly ambitious and probably completely unrealistic in thinking that I’ll make it through four books this week… but hey, a reader can dream, can’t she?

So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.

boy1

Wishlist Wednesday

Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday!

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Do a post about one book from your wishlist and why you want to read it.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to Pen to Paper somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My wishlist book this week is:

Reality Boy

Reality Boy by A. S. King
(release date October 22, 2013)

From Goodreads:

Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.

Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.

In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved.

Why do I want to read this?

I read Ask The Passengers by A. S. King a few months ago, and thought it was wonderful. The author has a gift for portraying young adults as real people facing hard choices and dealing with the fall-out. I’ve been wanting to read more by this author (an earlier novel, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, was a Printz Honor book in 2011) — and Reality Boy sounds like a great choice. I’m intrigued by the concept, following a boy forced into a public role via reality TV at such a young age. I’d really love to know what happens to him, and whether he finds a way to escape his past and lead a normal life.

What’s on your wishlist this week?

So what are you doing on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a blog hop or book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: Ask the Passengers by A. S. King

Book Review: Ask the Passengers by  A. S. King

Astrid Jones is a smart, funny girl who you can easily imagine having an amazing life in New York, hanging out in the Village perhaps, exploring the city with quirky and artsy friends. Unfortunately for Astrid, she does not live in the city. Born a New Yorker, Astrid and her family moved to Unity Valley, Pennsylvania — quintessential small-town USA — when she was 10 years old, and has been stuck in a rut ever since.

In Unity Valley, and in Astrid’s own family, the only way to fit in is to fit — no rough edges, nothing to make you stand out, no unusual traits. And if you’re the member of a minority group? Well, may the gods of uniformity help you then. The small-minded gossip of the town regularly calls out the ethnic minorities, the eccentrics, and the generally suspect, and there is no mercy when it comes to the rumor mill and the shunning and humiliations that can result.

Astrid, at age 17, mostly keeps her head down and gets by. She hides a vital secret for her two best friends, Kristina and Justin, the high school’s golden couple, but Astrid has a major secret of her own. On the weekends at her part-time job, Astrid’s friendship with Dee has moved from casual comfort to hot-and-heavy make-out sessions, and Astrid likes it quite a bit. But is she gay? She’s not sure, and she’s tired of all the pressure — pressure from her parents to fit in, pressure from Dee to take a stand and come out, pressure from the high school in-crowd to just be normal, have a boyfriend, and not be so weird.

To clear her head, Astrid has the unusual habit of going out into her backyard, lying down on the picnic table, and watching the airplanes fly overhead. As each one passes, Astrid focuses on sending her love to the passengers — not just to say hi, but to send her own love away from her to a place where it might be safe. Astrid can’t share anything with her controlling parents or her too-perfect sister; she can’t open up to her best friend; and she can’t share her doubts and confusion with Dee without Dee taking it as a statement on their relationship. So Astrid sends her love to the passengers overhead, the only people she can love freely and without consequence, and for a while, it helps her.

The rest of the time, the table just sits here with nothing to do. So I lie on it and I look at the sky. I see shapes in the clouds by day and shooting stars by night. And I send love to the passengers inside the airplanes… [But] it feels good to love a thing and not expect anything back. It feels good to not get an argument or any pushiness or any rumors or any bullshit. It’s love without strings. It’s ideal.

Astrid gets by for a while, but things do reach a crisis point eventually, and finally Astrid is pushed far enough that she has to take big risks and take a stand. When she blows up, she does so rather spectacularly, and it’s particularly wonderful to see the fall-out of her explosion.

Ask the Passengers is a quick-paced story, told in the first-person from Astrid’s perspective, so that we see inside her thoughts and fears, and really get a chance to see a smart girl try to take control of her life and at the same time do the right thing. Astrid is willing to come out when it feels right — but how does she know if she’s really gay? Maybe she doesn’t like girls in general, just Dee? And if she’s not sure, is it cowardice to remain hidden, or is it bravery to be committed to speaking nothing but the truth? Is the pressure from Dee to come out any different from the pressure from Astrid’s family to be “normal”? There are some important questions asked here about tolerance and acceptance. At one point, the high school has a mandatory Tolerance Day, complete with pep rally and inspirational speakers — but the day is so clearly aimed at Astrid and her friends that it really just serves to isolate them even more.

Interspersed throughout Astrid’s tale is snippets from different airplane flights. As Astrid sends her love to the passengers overhead, we get small segments throughout the book of different passengers on different planes, who make life-changing decisions, face up to hard truths, or simply find some inner strength to face their problems. The implication is that Astrid’s love has reached them and affected them in some way. Magical thinking, perhaps, but it’s a nice idea — or perhaps it’s only coincidence, and the magic is simply in drawing lines from one person in crisis to another, so that the author is showing the reader that none of us are alone, that everyone has risks to take and decisions to make, and that owning up to our own thoughts and feelings may be the bravest step a person can take.

I had not heard of Ask the Passengers until last week, when it was announced that this book was the winner of the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature. A well-deserved piece of recognition, in my opinion. Ask the Passengers is an important book that doesn’t feel preachy, with valuable messages for teens struggling to figure out who they are and where they fit in — and an important lesson as well for the adults in teens’ lives about the incalculable value of support and love without judgement or conditions.