“Reluctant readers” is not always a euphemism for “guys,” but it often is. In fact, the euphemism may deserve its own post on Guys Lit Wire. This, however, is not that post, at least not entirely. But it is about A.S. King’s Reality Boy, which was recently named to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) 2014 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers list. And deservedly so, as there is much about Reality Boy to draw in readers, reluctant or otherwise.
What classifies a book as a good choice for “reluctant readers”? Are we damning with faint praise when we classify a book as such? My former literary snob self would have said, “Yes, unreservedly” (my formerly literary snob self talked like that). But perhaps the best cure for literary snobbishness is to become a reading teacher. Now I appreciate books that “pop,” as I have seen how they can turn “hesitant” readers (a term I like better than “reluctant,” as I think it more truthfully connotes the approach of most such readers) into passionate readers. Or, at the least, less hesitant readers. Books that “pop” because of their subject matter, their zippy dialogue, their relatively short chapters: these are not lesser books. They may even be better books, as they have the potential to be gateway drugs. I saw it last semester with a student who declared Allen Zadoff’s Boy Nobody the best book he had ever read, the longest book he had ever read, and the book that all of his friends needed to read. I will not be surprised if Reality Boy does that for a student this semester.
I did a read aloud with my class last week, and believe me, when I told students how Gerald and his dysfunctional family had been featured on a reality show when he was young, and how his sister Tasha was a psychopath and her parents refused to deal with it, and how young Gerald took out his youthful frustration and anxiety by pooping in strategically inappropriate places…let’s just they were hooked. And when I talked about how high school-aged Gerald struggles with his family, his anger issues and the feeling that he will always be judged by the way the reality show presented him, students understood. Anger is an all-too present reality among many teenagers, and often some of that anger stems from the feeling of being trapped in a place and persona not of your choosing. I also think we find a strong correlation between students with anger issues and “reluctant” readers.
I have never been a reluctant reader, so trying to understand such a reality was a struggle for me when I became a reading teacher. But readers should have no struggle trying to relate to Gerald’s dilemma about how to deal with his anger, as shutting himself off from his triggers (though that’s hard to do with Tasha back living with the family) feels like it is shutting himself off from the positive possibilities in his life as well, most notably the affection of his co-worker, Hannah. How does someone who feels like he hates the world allow himself to love someone? The tentative building of Gerald and Hannah’s relationship is a highlight of Reality Boy. Highly recommended.