Ages 12 and up
I recently learned that a film adaptation of this book is being released so I wanted to review the book. Every reader knows that the book is always better. There are a few exceptions in which the book and movie almost match up in greatness, but that’s a post for another day.
The first time I read this novel, I fell in love. The second time I read it, it happened again. This is the kind of book that makes me want to jump up and punch the air in victory. All the pieces come together just right. There’s nothing contrived or unnatural about the story or the characters. It also has a perfect ending, which marks what could be a beautiful beginning.
Troy Billings, the fat kid, is our narrator. He’s seventeen, a senior in high school, and weighs nearly three hundred pounds. When the story opens, he is standing on a subway platform in New York City contemplating suicide. He hates his life, hates being fat. He’s convinced everyone is always looking at him, judging him, hating him. They hate him for taking up too much space, for even existing. Because of his weight, he carefully considers every single thing he does, every move he makes. He’s careful in the way he walks so that he doesn’t work up a sweat. He’s careful in the way he breathes so that his cheeks don’t puff up. He also gives titles to his situations: “Fat Kid Messes Up” or “Fat Kid Hallucinates About Cool Friend.”
The cool friend is Curt McCrae, a legend at Troy’s high school for being “the only truly homeless, sometimes student, sometimes dropout, punk rock, artist god among us.” Curt distracts Troy from his suicide mission, then convinces Troy to buy him lunch. Much to Troy’s surprise, Curt seems to want to be around him and he even asks Troy to be his drummer in a new band. Even though Troy told Curt he knows how to play drums he doesn’t really. The entirety of Troy’s drumming prowess consists of a few lessons in junior high. He can’t blow his cover though, besides being a rock god, Curt’s the first friend Troy’s had in a very long time.
The very basic plot is this: Troy’s family grew apart when his mom died. Troy got fat, his ex-Marine dad closed up, and his younger jock brother, Dayle, pulled away. Troy has no friends, and no confidence. Meeting Curt, forming a band, and stepping way outside his comfort zone is going to lead to big things for Troy. Things do not go perfectly and the “happy ending” is not delivered as a completely wrapped package. But this book, as a whole, is a perfectly bound story worth every second.
There are two things about this book that defy the usual storybook pattern. First, Troy does not lose weight. He does, however, gain confidence, learn about himself, and learn about how others may, or more surprisingly, may not, view him. All too often, in books, movies and TV shows, for overweight people to gain any sort of confidence or realize their potential they must drop a lot of pounds first. It rarely works that way in real life. One must first tap into whatever inner confidence is available and muster up the ability to make a change. Troy does just this. Though he is convinced that at any moment the rug will be pulled out from under him, that it will all turn out to be some cruel joke, he perseveres.
Second, it’s an adult who shows the first signs of real change. Adults have failed both of these boys in some way, which has played a role in the people they are becoming, but Troy’s dad sees a way to change things, and follows through. I’m often discouraged at the lack of positive adults both in books and in real life. Despite the fact that Curt is homeless and addicted to prescription medications, Troy’s dad breaks character and both supports his son and works to help Curt.
Fat Kid Rules the World is an emotionally real journey and a remarkable book absolutely worthy of its reader’s time. So when you see the trailer for this movie, go buy the book instead.