Books Outside the Box
Young adulthood is the time when most people learn who they really are and to like who they find. This post is about books that are not the traditional YA, but instead are books that show the difference between packaging and content.
For many young people, myself included, the world sent us a host of messages telling us we were out of step, that something was wrong with us. That is especially true for kids who are overweight. In today’s world, a retail store’s recent decision to feature a size 12 swimsuit model prominently on their website without labeling her as “plus size” provoked pages of commentary and even criticism from numerous news outlets.
No wonder so many teens have trouble looking at themselves in a mirror.
I was one of those overweight teens, and I know that diversity is about more than just race, religion, or locale. During my all-important teen years I never found any books that featured a protagonist like myself dealing with the issues of being bigger than the other kids. Oh, books often featured an overweight sidekick to provide a little comic relief while the lithe and winsome protagonist fulfilled his or her destiny. But the overweight kid never took center stage. Their pains and issues were not the spotlight.
Things have changed, both in real life and in fiction.
Not every book is about the beautiful people. Dara, the protagonist in Secrets of Truth and Beauty by Megan Frazer (2009), is a former child beauty pageant star turned overweight teen. Her story is not about a girl deciding to diet or about parents and friends realizing they are wrong about her. She is a “fat girl,” but that is not her whole identity. She uncovers a past her parents have kept hidden from her, including an older sister who left home before she was born. She does not decide to diet to fix her problems and earn the love of others. Nor do her parents undergo a miraculous change of heart and learn to accept their children as they are. Instead, this is a true coming-of-age story where Dara learns to accept herself as she is, as well as to accept her elder sister’s sexual orientation and the idea that her parents will probably never change their attitudes toward either of their daughters.
Unfortunately, the publisher chose not to portray an overweight teen on the cover. Still, this book will appeal to people who seldom see their issues in print. It will also reach out to anyone who wants to see the world through the eyes of someone bigger than average. As one reader said about the book: I’m a 25 year old guy, and I still found myself relating to the main character in a lot of ways.
Butter by Erin Jade Lange (2013) takes things in a different direction. Butter is truly larger than average — over four hundred pounds large. The morbidly obese protagonist is tired of being rejected and declares his intention to eat himself to death on a live webcast. But as the date draws closer, Butter begins to find himself surrounded by members of the popular crowd. He even gets a girlfriend. Now he has something to live for, but only if he goes through with his plans. His newfound popularity comes with an expiration date. His new friends are really waiting to see him die. Some have even made bets on his last meal.
The book leaves readers questioning and taking a second look at themselves and the people around them. All the characters have shades of good and bad. Butter in particular is a nice kid: funny, musical, intelligent. It makes you look around; it makes you wonder.
If a kid really decided to kill himself on streaming video — would you watch?
Fat Angie by E.E. Charlton Trujillo (2013) hides herself under a mountain of junk food. None of that dulls the pain or the ridicule of other students who shout “crazy mad cow!” when they see her. She also tried — and failed — to kill herself in front of a gym full of kids. Now she just tries to live each day.
Until the new girl arrives.
One person, aptly named K.C. Romance, sees under the surface masks into Angie’s true essence and makes a difference in her present and her future.
– Barbara Binns, currently reading Lexapos and Cons by Aaron Karo