Reality and Me all Capeless
We are Here: Done!
Spoilers? A few plot points
This novel explores the complex ramifications that even tangential fame can have on our relationships through a teenager named Finbar (Fin), who finds himself the star of a reality show about personal fitness. It’s not often that a novel centers the perspective of a low-income character of color who has a learning disability. We need diverse books, and Steuert delivers.
We first get to know the main character as he coaches his friend Julius through a deadweight lifting competition. Cameras catch him in action and before we know it, Fin’s signed a contract to star in a reality show that has him training regular people to get into shape. This is dandy as far as he’s concerned, as it gets him out of high school, where he has been struggling. If there’s a down-side to that particular perk, it’s that he isn’t able to spend as much time with the friends he’s made in Resource.
Though he survives many violent encounters with peers and racist interactions with adults, Fin doesn’t let much phase him. Instead, he rolls with (literal) punches and turns lemons into (often sour) lemonade. Fin’s friends sustain him, as does his urge to help others–his mother, who works long hours cleaning houses, his friends, and a woman named Nicole, a little person who hasn’t been outside of her apartment in a long time. The reality show, however, wants him to spend his time with wealthier clients of their choosing, and throughout the novel Fin struggles to balance these two groups of people.
While Fin and Julius suffer a (somewhat bewildering) falling out mid-way through, the climax comes around Halloween, when Fin’s aspirational love interest betrays him and the world he’d been building for himself falls further apart.
In the end, readers get the sense that reality TV isn’t always the deus ex machina it might seem to be for people who come from underprivileged backgrounds. If Fin, his mother and his friends are any indication, they often expend far more emotional (and in this case, physical) labor than they’re fairly compensated for.
Above all, this book is about the curse of opportunity, connecting across differences, and responsibility to one’s family and friends.
“Non-Ronald camera man” may be the best name for an unnamed character ever.
The light-hearted humor had me chuckling out loud more than a few times. “I basically did battle with some kind of sentient plant creature,” Fin says of a particularly onerous lawn mowing encounter (68).
Why is this book better than people?
It features a body-positive personal trainer and a refreshing point of view. Besides, how many kids do you know who manage to befriend their bullies (even when, for their own safety, they probably shouldn’t)?
I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.