Sunday, November 10, 2013


    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.


  1. Scarlett O'Hara was selfish and manipulative in Gone With the Wind, but I was still rooting for her because of her spunk.

  2. There are many literary characters I care about and nearly all of them possess ugly traits.
    1) I care deeply about Harry Potter from The Harry Potter series even though he is hot headed and stubborn but I still loved his character because his character was symbolic, he represented something bigger than himself.
    2) Jo from Little Women!! I love her character even though she is also (like Harry) short tempered but you gotta love her because she's not a traditional fictional character, she has spirit and she dreams big and genuinely cares about her family.
    3) Amir Agha from Khaled Hosseini's The Kite runner (that book is a tear jerker!) even though he's a coward and is very selfish (he runs away from Hassan when Hassan needs him most and then he makes his father drive Hassan away from their house by putting a false allegation on him) I should hate him, but I didn't and still don't because his past continued to haunt him and sometimes people do things that are cowardly and also because he tries for redemption, to right his wrongs. (I feel care deeply for every character in that book, amazing book!)
    4) Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye. That guy is totally insane, he has a problem with everything and everyone but I cared about him simply because I felt sorry for him, for the way he looks at things, for the way he is.

    I think thats about it!! I'm not very good at explaining things but I tried, OK?

    1. Dear Nut: I thought you did a great job of explaining things. And I thought that of your four, Amir Agha fits the bill best, because he not only has unpleasant traits but causes real harm because of them, as Gerald does in REALITY BOY. Thanks so much for your contribution!

  3. “…as if [she] were John Green or something.” Oh my gosh! That’s adorable. XD

    Out of the many (130%?) themes packed into the book, the one about “the dangerous unreality of ‘reality’ TV, and the false perceptions it creates” piqued my interest the most. I haven’t watched much reality TV with the exception of “educational ones,” like Pawn Stars. I’ve seen and heard about bits and pieces of many drama/sensational-based reality shows because of being around friends and family that watch them though. I never understood the appeal because so much of it is obviously staging and editing, not “reality,” but I always wondered what the effect on the “characters” in the shows were in their real lives. Some of the shows are just so ridiculous and paint people in such a horrible light—I imagine it’s mostly negative effects. It’s especially worrying when young people are involved, because they probably don’t understand the potential consequences of their involvement, and they probably don’t have complete control over their involvement.

    It’ll be interesting to see how Gerald deals with and heals from the burden that the reality show has left him with. I wonder if this book will become a huge hit and start changing how America feels about reality shows?

    My answer for this contest entry is going to be Richard from “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt. Richards’s gloomy and boring childhood included a low economic status, a mean father, an inattentive mother and few friends. When he goes off to college, one of the things he seeks is friends/connections with people/admiration. He fabricates a “stranger accessible” past to lie to others about and manages to join and befriend a small, exclusive group of students studying Greek history under a professor. Later in the story, three of the group members accidentally kill a man and cover up the murder. The fourth group member finds out and starts blackmailing them. Then Richard finds out about the murder, and he helps the three friends murder the blackmailer to keep the original murder secret.

    I think Richard’s ugly trait is that he’s willing to do anything for companionship, from making elaborate lies about his past to helping murder someone who threatens his friends. The former is bad, while the later is appalling and unforgivable. Despite this, I cared about him because striving to fit in and wanting friends is something nearly everyone does and wants. Needing to maintain the lies about his past almost gets him killed at one point—he’d rather die than let the truth possibly ruin his relationships. I think it’s really sad that he was lonely, desperate and misguided enough to do these things, and I wish he could have avoided the downward spiral completely by not founding his new relationships on lies, or at least managed to get out of the downward spiral before stooping to murder. No one should have to lie or murder to get/have someone who cares about you.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful response! Yes, the fact that Gerald had zero control over his involvement with the reality show is a major theme. As he says in the prologue: "At five years old, did I have the capacity to write the producers a letter begging Network Nanny to come and help me stop punching the walls of my parents' swanky McMansion? No. I did not have that capacity. I did not write that letter. I did not want her to come. But she came anyway. So I got madder."
      I haven't read Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" but Richard sounds like a perfect example of a protagonist who commits a horrific deed but still keeps the reader's empathy. Thanks very much for your contribution. And you haven't even ruined "Secret History" for me when I do get around to reading it, because I've developed the awful habit of always skipping to the end anyway. Have you read Tartt's new novel, "The Goldfinch," yet?

    2. I haven't read "The Goldfinch" yet. After I read "The Secret History" a few years ago, I immediately looked up the author to see what else she had written, and her other book, "The Little Friend," had gotten pretty bad reviews, so I skipped it. I’m waiting to see what kind of reviews “The Goldfinch” gets before reading it. (It’s like 800 pages, which is a big time investment for me right now, so I want to make sure it’s going to be good before getting it. I almost never stop reading a book before finishing, so once I start, I’m in for the long haul. :P) Looking on Amazon right now, it does seem to be getting good reviews, so maybe I’ll pick it up over winter break. :]

      That and “Everybody Sees the Ants.” I enjoy war books, though I’ve mostly read non-fiction war books. Of the non-fiction/fiction that I have read, it’s always about soldiers and their family/friends, so a book about a soldier’s service’s effect on *future generations* certainly sounds unique and interesting.

      I hadn’t considered that I might be spoiling “The Secret History” (if not for you, then possibly other people). I need to be careful of spoilers in the future! =X

      Why do you skip to the end of books? I used to read the last sentence of books before reading them when I was a kid—I honestly don’t remember why though.

    3. I skip to the end of books because I have no patience to wait and find out what happens, and I can't help myself. There it is - the ugly truth! "Goldfinch" got fantastic reviews. One of these days I'm going to get around to reading it. As for "Everybody Sees the Ants," I highly recommend it. It's about a boy whose grandfather has been MIA since Vietnam, and it's also about bullying (none of A.S. King's books are only about one thing).

  4. CONTEST RESULTS: First, I want to thank everyone who participated. I loved all the contributions! Second: it was a tough decision, but I decided that Book Nut's entry was my favorite. Congrats, BookNut! Email me your mailing address at muranosb(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will send a signed copy of REALITY BOY winging its way to you! However, because my new friend Sharkie's contribution was also admirable, I don't want her (or him?) to walk away empty-handed. So: I have quite a collection of excellent YA novels slated for giveaway. Sharkie, if you tell me what you like to read about - besides war, because I already know that - and email me your address, I'll select a book for you too. Everyone's a winner here!

  5. Skipping to end of books: Well, it's the journey that matters, not the destination, right? If a book is *really* good, then it's going to be enjoyable even if you already know how it ends...which is why some books are worth rereading. :]

    Yay for BookNut! ^_^ I figured they'd win. It's impressive that they could think of *four* good examples. I struggled to come up with merely one! Obviously a vocarious and insightful reader.

    I am flattered to get second place! I'll think about what YA I like to read and e-mail you later. :]

    1. Congrats to you too on getting to win a YA book of your choice! :D

  6. omg!!! Thank you so much!!!! emailing you right away!! I'm Absolutely DELIGHTED!!! Thank you!!!!

  7. My pleasure, Book Nut! But apparently, according to the emails you sent me, you're Book Nerd, too! Are you both at the same time, or are you one or the other, depending on what kind of mood you wake up in that morning?

    1. hahahaha I'm both at the same time!! =D

    2. Well, I am very excited to have a second member of my Pakistan Fan Club! I'll get the book mailed right out to you.