Fat Kid Rules the World: A Banned Book Review

Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. GoingTroy Billings is seventeen years old. He weighs 296 pounds. He’s six foot one. And he has a crew cut. Yeah, that’s right, a crew cut. He is a sweating fat kid standing on the edge of the subway platform over the yellow line and looking down.

And, if you think about it right, there’s something funny about it, there really is.

At least until Curt MacCrae, the wily blonde ferret of a boy–sometimes student, sometimes dropout, all-the-time legend (and all-the-time homeless) boy/guitar genius, saves Troy’s life.

Suddenly, instead of jumping in front of the F train Troy is the new drummer in Curt’s band. Even though he can’t actually play the drums.

As Troy learns the ins and outs of Punk Rock and being Curt’s friend, he also finds that hitting it big as a drummer and in life might have a lot more to do with his attitude than is weight in Fat Kid Rules the World (2004) by K. L. Going.

Find it on Bookshop.

I didn’t realize it until just now when I was writing up the summary part of the review (I write those all myself, did you all know that?), but this is actually one of my favorite books.

It’s not easy being the outsider because you can’t shop at the same stores as the skinny kids or because you’re plain old bigger than everyone else.* It’s not easy having a brother who thinks you’re a loser or a father who pretty much knows you’re a waste of space. Troy has all of those things bringing him down.

He also has the most amazing sense of humor that comes through in every page of the book in his charming narration. Going manages to take a story that could be tragic and make it funny, poignant, hopeful and amazing. It’s short enough to dazzle reluctant readers, deep enough to thrill anyone looking for something more “literary.” In short, Fat Kid Rules the World is just kind of a great book.

But not everyone thinks so . . . *cue dramatic segue music*

For those of you who might not know, we are smack in the middle of Banned Books Week (September 25 to October 2, 2010). Banned Books Week is an annual thing that ALA has been organizing since 1982. It’s a week to raise awareness about books that are challenged in local libraries for reasons ranging from vaguely logical in a skewed-censorship-supporting-way to the completely insane (like this guy who thought Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was pornographic**).

At its core, Banned Books Week is, quite simply, about celebrating the freedom to read whatever you want. (Possibly also to read whatever you want without remorse.) Thankfully larger library systems, like the one where I work, don’t have a lot of challenges that reach this level. But many libraries do and it’s a serious problem because people should be able to make their own decisions about what they read. And it’s not just modern books either, many popular classics are banned or challenged all the time.

To celebrate Banned Books Week The Rejectionist and T. H. Mafi have proposed that everyone post a review of their favorite banned book on September 30, so here (obviously) is my review of Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going which was the 58th most banned book of the decade (here’s the bonus list for 1990 to 1999) and also one of the sweetest, most optimistic books out there (in a manly, all of the characters are boys, kind of way). Oh and it was a Printz Award honor book in 2004.

Also, because I enjoy sharing links, here also is K. L. Going’s post about a recent challenge to Fat Kid Rules the World.

*I actually had many petite friends in high school who came to my shoulder and it’s really weird being surrounded by people who are smaller than you. Just saying. Moving on . . .

**SPOILER: He thought it was pornographic because of a rape scene. You read that right. You may already have seen a lot of #speakloudly hashtags on Twitter or heard about it through another book blog.

Possible Pairings: Will by Maria Boyd, You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, Geography Club by Brent Hartinger, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

King of the Screwups: A review

King of the Screwups by K. L. GoingWith a rich, important father and a famous supermodel mother, it’s no surprise that Liam Geller has been Mr. Popularity for most of his life. The spitting image of his beautiful mother, Liam has wanted to impress his father for years. The problem is that Liam always seems to screw everything up. After seventeen years’ worth of warnings about jeopardizing his future and never amounting to anything but the life of the party, Liam has resigned himself to being Mr. Popularity for the the rest of his life. It’s not like he has many other options.

That is until Liam screws up for the last time. Thrown out of the house with no place else to go, Liam finds himself living with his father’s brother in upstate New York. Living in a trailer with his gay, glam rock playing, DJ “Aunt” Pete was not how Liam planned to start his senior year in high school. Not even a little bit.

The more Liam thinks about his exile, though, the more he realizes this might be his best chance to earn his father’s approval. No more popular, athletic, fashion savvy Liam; instead Liam decides to make himself into the studious nerd his father always wanted for a son. The thing of it is, the harder Liam tries to make himself into the ideal son, the worse everything seems to get. Luckily for Liam, family and even father figures come in all shapes and sizes–even a glam rocking uncle no one expected to fit either part in King of the Screwups (2009) by K. L. Going.

Find it on Bookshop.

In 2004 K. L. Going’s novel Fat Kid Rules the World (2003) was selected as a Printz Award Honor Book.At first I thought King of the Screwups (2009) was a surprising departure from that novel because it’s so funny and because Liam is such a different character from Troy. But now, thinking about the two, I realize they have more in common than I initially realized. Like her earlier novel, King of the Screwups is the story of a boy trying to find himself and connect with a family that keeps him at a remove.

Superficially, Liam seems to lead an ideal life and really have it all–good looks, popularity, money and privilege. Most people would think that would be enough to make a happy life. Going intersperses flashbacks throughout the story to show the chinks in Liam’s movie perfect life while also making Liam a highly developed and very well realized character. Liam has spent most of his life being cut down by his father’s offhand remarks and watching his mother receive similar treatment while still taking her husband’s part in every fight. As the story progresses Liam realizes there is more to life than seeking approval and that, sometimes, you have to screw up before you can really succeed.

Some parts of this story were heartbreaking to read but ultimately King of the Screwups is a funny and uplifting story about family (and fashion) that will appeal to just about everyone. The book cover (designed by Christine Kettner, with a photo by Shani Frymer) is also excellent; simple and classy, it is the perfect embodiment of the story within.

Possible Pairings: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci, Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley, Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley, Confessions of a Not It Girl by Melissa Kantor, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, The Beginning of Everything by Robin Schneider, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp