This post is a reader’s response to a book read for the 2013 Hub Reading Challenge.
I read a lot of YA literature for my job, and the Hub Reading Challenge helped me focus on books that have won critical acclaim. The one book that really stood out was Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy by Bil Wright. My thoughts frequently went back to it as I tried to figure out just what it was about this book that resonated with me. I finally realized that the main character’s eternal optimism and positive spin on events charmed me. With so many dystopias popular these days, this young man was a breath of fresh air.
Like many YA characters, Carlos Durate, an overweight, Hispanic, gay teen who lives in NYC with his sister and single mother and no father in in the picture faces life with several strikes against him. He goes to school and has to work in a preschool to help his family. His amazing talent is to use makeup to make people beautiful, and he is eager to share his ability with the world. He has never covered his light — in fact he makes it very plain for all to see. “I decided to always walk into a room like I was deciding if I wanted to stay, not if I’d be allowed to.” Throughout the book he is harassed by his sister’s violent boyfriend and his cohorts, but Carlos never avoids them.
While most YA characters model good work ethics, Carlos repeatedly shares how determined he is to prove himself by doing whatever is necessary to show up to his jobs on time, have all the tools necessary, and provide whatever service is necessary — even work as menial as changing diapers at the preschool: “The thing about kids is that you have to pay attention right there and then.” He shows true maturity by hiding his true feelings when helping particularly needy customers. “I went on to my next client, who I knew wasn’t going to buy half as much as June, but I was definitely doing what I was supposed to — attract business and sell, sell, sell.” His effort gains admiration from some coworkers and resentment from others. When Carlos arrives for a job at the television studio early, he shows up the regular makeup artist who moans, “Well, how do I know I even have a job if I come in and that little boy is in here with his little makeup bag all ready to go?”
Today’s teens have to deal with myriad problems (actual and perceived), and they are all reflected in YA literature. Characters sigh, cry, bleed, complain, suffer, sacrifice, and painfully pull themselves through life for the reader. Hurray for the rare character that bears his problems with fortitude and humor, respect and morality, and the goal of making the world a prettier place!
— Colette Crowther