I love A.S. King for many reasons. Here's a partial list:
1. She writes wonderful, gripping, hilarious, quirky, deadly serious YA novels about extremely real characters dealing with very important issues, without ever letting the issues overshadow the characters. I've talked about her and her books a lot on this blog. She is unique and fearless, and her books have earned many starred reviews and won many prestigious awards. She is on her way to the top of the profession.
2. When I (Nobody from Nowhere) asked her, just out of the blue, she let me interview her for this blog last year and was very patient with my questions, as obtuse as she seemed to think some of them were. And before the interview actually happened, she emailed back and forth with me for a while, taking the time to ask me about my own writing and to offer me writerly encouragement. I mean, who does that??
3. She doesn't watch television. So I'm not the only one.
4. She chose me as the winner of a limerick contest that she ran on Twitter a few months ago. About virginity, as a matter of fact. And as a prize, she sent me a book called "Losing It" which contained one of her stories.
5. I own a great recipe for corn chowder that she once posted to her blog, or Facebook, or Twitter - I don't remember which one, since I stalk her on so many media. Used the recipe today, in fact, only quintupled (I won't bore you with the story of how I ended up getting 40 ears of corn for free).
6. I met her two nights ago at the very cool Clinton Book Shop, and was not surprised to learn that she's as warm and down-to-earth in person as she seems to be in social media. (Did NOT get my picture taken with her, though. Nobody else was doing that there, and it seemed like it would have been really inappropriate for me to ask.) One of the things she mentioned is how thrilled a young girl had been that day when she'd replied to her on Twitter, "as if I were John Green or something!" See, A.S. King doesn't even know that she is John Green.
7. She has the same first name as my daughter.
I'll stop the list there, though I could go on. But there's a point here: A.S. King's latest novel, REALITY BOY, has just been released (Little, Brown, 2013) and is already clad in starred reviews, and I am giving away a freshly-autographed hardcover copy to a lucky contest winner.
I'll quote here from some of the starred reviews. Publishers Weekly: "A nuanced portrayal... This is a story about healing." School Library Journal: "King's trademarks - attuned first-person narrative, convincing dialogue, realistic language, and fitting quirkiness - connect effectively in this disturbing, yet hopeful novel." Kirkus Reviews: "Heart-pounding and heartbreaking... A compulsively readable portrait of two imperfect teens learning to trust each other and themselves."
To be completely honest, I'm sort of hiding behind the starred reviews as a way of avoiding reviewing the book myself. It's deceptively simple to describe the plot: 16-year-old Gerald Faust's whole life has been defined by his family's stint on a fake-nanny reality TV show a decade ago, and by his own role on that show as the designated family-wrecker. Due to his unique form of response to this situation, highly popular as it was among TV viewers, Gerald is still known to his peers as The Crapper. Due to his more recent activities, he's also known as someone occasionally capable of acts of horrendous violence. Now a high school junior in special ed classes, he possesses an anger management coach; no friends; and a lifelong belief that everyone on the show was right about him. He's going to end up either in prison, or dead. And then he meets this girl.
But what is the book about? That's what I'm struggling with. Is it about healing, as PW says? About the power of love, a la Kirkus? About our society's obsession with celebrity and our schizophrenic attitudes toward the celebrities themselves? About the dangerous unreality of "reality" TV, and the false perceptions it creates? About what happens to kids who grow up subjected to parental neglect as well as to physical and emotional abuse from a sibling? Is it about how victims of violence often end up being perpetrators? Or is it about all of the above? And if it's all of the above, isn't that approximately 30% too many themes for one YA novel?
Despite this quibble of mine, REALITY BOY is a great read. I also believe that it's an important book, in large part because it was written by an important author. I would like people to read it and figure out what they think it's about. And in furtherance of that goal, I'm hereby sponsoring a contest, with an autographed copy of this book as a prize. SO: in order to enter the contest, which will run from now until next Sunday, Nov. 17th, at midnight Eastern time, leave a comment to this post answering the following question: Name a literary protagonist who possesses at least one truly ugly trait but whom you nonetheless care deeply about, and explain why you do.
P.S. And by the way, in honor of Veterans' Day: In EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, A.S. King engages in one of the strangest and most moving discussions of the impact of military service on future generations that I have ever seen.
P.P.S. And here is what Laurie Halse Anderson has to say about honoring veterans, including her father.