I think I’ve only done this once in the last four and some years as editor of SLJTeen—I’m contributing a review. Part of my reasoning is that my teen reviewers have become, understandably, slackers… hey, it is summer vacation! And the other part is, I couldn’t keep quiet about Printz honoree A.S. King’s latest title, Reality Boy. Now that I think about this review side by side with a that of Sara Polsky’s This Is How I Find Her, it’s possible that these titles were always meant to be together.
POLSKY, Sara. This is How I Find Her. Albert Whitman Teen. Sept. 2013. Tr $16.99. 9780807578773.
Sophie takes care of her mother—her bipolar mother, whose manic-depressive light switch disorder has run their lives for years. After her mother’s attempted suicide, Sophie is forced to move in with her Aunt Cynthia, Uncle John, and cousin Leila. She hasn’t spoken to them in years, and as she works to maintain a quiet, undisruptive place in their household she discovers just how much she has missed in both her social and home life. Sophie is determined to do what is best. However, discovering what’s best for her and her entire family might not be what she expects it to be.
Sara Polsky’s This Is How I Find Her takes on mental illness in a way I haven’t read before; instead of telling a story from the point of view of someone with an illness, the reader experiences it from an outside perspective. The focus of this novel is family, and the sacrifices family must make when someone has a mental illness. Additionally, Sophie struggles with the definitions of family as well as friendship, and reading her story exposes struggles one may face while juggling the responsibility of taking care of someone along with trying to take care of themselves. This Is How I Find Her is a compelling novel that makes readers question their definition of family, and how far they would go for the people they love.—Destiny B., age 16
KING, A.S. Reality Boy. Little, Brown. Oct. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316222709.
Gr 9 Up—Gerald’s mother signed him and his sisters up to be on a reality show reminiscent of The Nanny when he was just five years old, and he’s been angry ever since. Nicknamed “Crapper” for how he acted out his frustrations, he’d just rather be a normal teen, but that seems impossible with his completely dysfunctional family. His mother never wanted him or his sister Lisi—firstborn Tasha is the focus of all her attention and reigns as top dog, free to physically and verbally abuse anyone that gets in her way. Add to this that Gerald’s mother put him in special education classes because he seemed “slow,” and he has to fight the stigma that comes with that every day (though this group of classmates are ultimately much more high-functioning than his own family). The occasional escape from the harsh reality of his life is to take a “Gersday,” when he completely zones out and goes to a beautiful happy place, far away from family, bullies, and memories of the reality show.
He’s had enough, and through an unlikely friendship forged while working at a local event venue, Gerald begins to find the strength and motivation to fight back. With Hannah, a fellow cashier and teen with issues of her own, Gerald discovers a sense of normalcy he’s never experienced before, and when push literally comes to shove, he refuses to give up his hard-fought struggle for independence.
King never fails to surprise me—every one of her books has its own particular (and sometimes peculiar) sets of tics and twists and triumphs—and Reality Boy is no exception. Readers will be cheering for Gerald to take back his life, get the girl, and ditch the toxic environment he is forced to live in. We all know at least one teen who needs a book like this; I didn’t know I needed it until I turned the last page.—Dodie Ownes, editor, SLJTeen
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