I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this one since I finished it. Like other books I’ve read recently, I’m not sure this one boils down to a “like” or “dislike.” There was just so much going on that was SO horrific that I find it difficult to recommend it. But, having said that, I finished it basically in one sitting because I couldn’t tear myself away.
When Gerald was five, his mother decided that he was a Problem Child and wrote to the Network Nanny — one of those helpful reality shows — to get it to come help Fix her child. The show came, and Gerald was shown crapping (literally) on national TV on the table, in his mother’s shoes, in all sorts of places. And, 12 years later, he still hasn’t lived it down. His nickname is “Crapper.” He’s in Special Ed (because someone who craps on the table MUST be developmentally delayed). He’s in therapy for anger management. And he has given up all hope of having a future; his only goal is to stay out of jail.
As the book progresses, though, you come to realize that Gerald isn’t a problem child; he’s just been labeled that way. And that the situation — from his abusive older sister to his parents who are in active denial to his teachers who have decided he’s not worth fussing over — has rendered Gerald completely helpless. The book is basically his awakening: the realization that it’s HIS life and if he wants to change it, he CAN. That he doesn’t have to be a victim, doesn’t have to conform to his mother’s expectations of him (which are low, to say the least). And that’s empowering.
Its not an easy read. Gerald’s family is beyond messed up. But A.S. King’s writing is not without compassion toward Gerald and his eventual girlfriend, Hannah. There are moments of hope, breaks between the bleakness, that make it easier to get through the moments — with his sister Tasha, especially, who is the driving negative force in Gerald’s life — that are hardest to get through. There is hope, in the end, as well. It’s not a happy book, by any means. But it is a powerful one.
And for that reason, it should be read.
Rated: High, for a lot — a LOT — of language (including multiple f-bombs), and there’s a lot of physical and emotional abuse going on. There’s also sex, but none of it is graphic or titillating.