Troy Billings is seventeen, 296 pounds, friendless, utterly miserable, and about to step off a New York subway platform in front of an oncoming train. Until he meets Curt MacCrae, an emaciated, semi-homeless, high school dropout guitar genius, the stuff of which Lower East Side punk rock legends are made. Never mind that Troy’s dad thinks Curt’s a drug addict and Troy’s brother thinks Troy’s the biggest (literally) loser in Manhattan. Soon, Curt’s recruited Troy as his new drummer—even though Troy can’t play the drums. Together, Curt and Troy will change the world of punk, and Troy’s own life, forever. ... Read more
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Troy 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.
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 simlpy, 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: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga
Great story elements
I would rate Fat Kid Rules the World about and 8 out of 10.I rate it this because it was a great story line and great story elements, however it seemed like every chapter started out the same way.I would say it is appropriate for kids about our age (9th grade) and up because of it's language and references.
Teacher - Grade 6
This book gave me a new appreciation for what obese teenagers and for what obese adults go through.As I read this novel, I tried to focus on the psychological ends of things that overweight people have to deal with.This book gave me a new appreciation of what "people of size" go through on a daily basis.We need to cheer them on, celebrate their successes, and don't feel that they are just "lazy" and don't want to do it.All humans yearn for success.
I'm a total freak!
A well-crafted coming of age story that intimates an homage to J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey.
The story opens with the protagonist, Troy, an obese teenager, considering a suicide attempt on the subway tracks.He is interrupted by Curt, a legend at their high school, a homeless drop-out & punk rock guitar fiend in the local scene.They're friendship, such as it is, initiates significant changes in both of their lives.A typical sounding summary but a well-delivered story: realistically rendered urban setting; genuine relationships; true to life dialog; awkward moments;engaging & often funny narrator; a truly unlikely hero for today's culture; and an unlikely savior in the form of punk rock music.
I enjoyed watching the gradual, passionate, changes Troy makes over the course of this story.His newly discovered confidence and skill.His deep compassion that extends to his new friend & changes how he see his own family.His self-possession. His truth-telling.
I don't usually read young adult fiction, but my toddler happened to be strolling that aisle of the library & this book caught my eye.Another book on the same shelf was about a transgender teen... and I wonder if hip, well-written novels engaging difficult issues for teens is a new trend or just one I've overlooked. In Fat Kid Rules the World Going gracefully manages big issues & a big character, in a slender, easy to read, well-paced book.I'm curious to see what her other books in this genre are like.
Unique Take for the "Buddy" Genre
The Odd Couple.Mutt and Jeff.Fire and Ice.That's what you get when you take a 300-pound protagonist (17-year-old Troy Billings) and a skinny-as-all-get-out guitar hero (Curt MacCrae).For Troy, a funny thing happens on the way to his Chapter One suicide.He meets Curt.And from there, first-time novelist K.L. Going fashions an unusually compelling story of a musical friendship.
Curt is a high-school drop-out based loosely on Kurt Cobain, and he doesn't play by the rules.Troy, on the other love handle, knows ALL the rules -- and they're all stacked against him.The magic comes when Curt not only overlooks Troy's blubber, he demands that "Big T" be his new drummer.As the young rock fans love Curt, they come to accept the previously reviled Troy, too.Only Troy is having trouble with the fact that he's supposed to become Ringo Starr in only a few short weeks.Then there's the reactions of his ex-Marine dad (who is appalled by Curt at first) and his younger "super jock" brother, Dayle.When Troy brings this dirty, smelly rocker home for dinner (he's basically homeless and half-starved), they cannot believe what they're seeing at the table.
This noisy novel speaks volumes for the silent suffering of the overweight.In Curt, Going creates a strong case for compassion and empathy as well.Unfortunately, the target audience (teenagers) is probably going to be restricted to older teens due to Going's heavy use of profanity and as well as the slight use of alcohol and drugs.Don't look for it in a middle school library any time soon, in other words.
Still, it's worth the ride, especially if you like strong secondary characters like Curt who rail against the establishment.Oh.And the Fat Kid's story is a compelling one, too.For a would-be drummer, his memorable debut is hard to beat.
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