Many young adult novel protagonists travel to the beat of a different drummer. This month I have three new novels to recommend that focus on teens who are out of sync with the mainstream. In A. S. King's Reality Boy Gerald Faust is still dealing with the fallout from his family's appearance on a reality series when he was a 5-year-old boy with anger management problems. Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl explores the problems twins, who are obsessed with and write fan fiction for a fictional character, face when one of them is ready to move on. In Len Vlahos's The Scar Boys, Harry Jones, who was severely burned when he was 8 years old, lives as a recluse until a friend convinces him to join a band.
Reality Boy, Gerald Faust became a celebrity when he was five years old and his mother involved his family in a reality TV show that showcased his problems with anger management. What isn't exposed in the show is that his anger is triggered by the torment he suffers at the hands of his psychopathic older sister. Now twelve years later, he is haunted by his TV persona. No one cares that he has his anger under control. When he is befriended by Hannah, a girl with family problems of her own, they decide to run away together in an attempt to find a safe haven they can call their own. A.S. King, who will be speaking at the Colorado Teen Lit Conference in April, creates a sympathetic main character, who bears the brunt of a dysfunctional family's problems. With Hannah's support Gerald is finally able to tackle the problems head on and derail his sister's ability to sabotage anything good that happens to him.
Fangirl Cath and her twin sister Wren became obsessed with the Simon Snow series when they were just kids and their mother left. Hanging out in Simon Snow chat rooms, dressing up as characters for movie premieres and writing fan fiction consumes their lives until they go to college and Wren wants to leave all that behind, including her sister. Coupled with her sister's defection, Cath also worries about her father's fragile mental stability, now that he is alone. Cath’s new roommate and her boyfriend, as well as her creative writing teacher who abhors fan fiction, try to take Cath out of her comfort zone. Can she leave Simon Snow behind and write her own stories, or is she doomed to hide forever in her fandom?
Eight-year-old Harry Jones’ life changed dramatically when neighborhood thugs tied him to a tree during a lightning storm and he was burned severely when the tree was struck by lightning. Living with physical and emotional scars, Harry is a recluse until eighth grade when charismatic Johnny rescues him from bullies and convinces him to join a band. After modest success in their hometown, The Scar Boys, who play punk rock, hit the road in a funky van to play gigs in college towns along the coast. Harry takes great solace in the music, but is also harboring a crush on Cheyene, the band's bass player. As with many bands, the personal dynamics are complicated by the members' close proximity. When his relationship with Johnny becomes toxic, Harry doesn't know where to turn.
The characters in these three books are really something special. I hated to leave them behind when the stories came to a close. As with many realistic YA novels, these seem to be stand alones. It will be interesting to see if teens embrace the characters, they way they did Hazel and Gus in The Fault of our Stars. I definitely think Gerald, Cath and Harry are worthy of such affection.