Once upon a time, when I was still struggling to write the manuscript for my first YA novel, before it became an indie film phenomena, I took a 2-day hiatus to read “Fat Kid Rules the World”, a book that ultimately revolutionized my thoughts on how teen literature should be written and how young adults should be portrayed.
In most YA fiction, the protagonist is dealing with some serious issues, be they familial, social, or just internal/existential angst. But Troy Billings, the protagonist of “Fat Kid Rules the World” doesn’t have much on his plate….besides being an obese 17-year-old. Troy is smart and has a supportive father in his corner but he is too afraid of what others think of him to live his life on his own terms until he meets Curt, a homeless teen drug-addict with no friends or family. Curt is brash, brazen, and adventurous and in this incredible coming-of-age story, he slowly teaches Troy how to be the same.
What I loved about this story, though, is not just what is written, but how it was written. “Fat Kid Rules the World” is one of the most honest, unpretentious displays of teen dialogue ever committed to literature. Unlike the Ivy League vernacular that was popular circa “Dawson’s Creek” or the intentionally unintelligent/naive banter in the many, many teen “reality” shows that followed, Going makes us feel as if we are spying on two teenage boys, not reading a book about characters who are supposed to be adolescents. I’d always assumed that YA fiction should ultimately lend to feelings of the warm and fuzzy variety, a la Sarah Dessen, and that teenagers should speak in literature the way that they spoke on television: in a relatively adult friendly manner. But I was wrong. This novel resonated with me, even though I have no clue what it is like to be a boy, overweight, or a drug addict. It touched me because it was honest, not just about what was being experienced, but how. This is what makes “Fat Kid Rules the World” such a great book. And besides that, the story (and the subsequent movie) is incredible.