I bring you a review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team. This one is a YA novel about a topic that affects many but one I haven’t read many books about. It made me think about the nature of comedy.
Freedom of speech and comedy have always had a complex relationship, as many people insist that any topic can be the subject of comedy while others don’t agree. Who decides what is offensive and what is not? Although as outside observers we might think that some people are easily offended (when we don’t agree with their point of view and their annoyance at something somebody else had said or done), we all (or most of us) have something (or someone) that we would be likely to get upset by if it became the butt of a joke. How do we judge what is appropriate? Books are being banned again and such issues seem to be more relevant than ever.
And without further ado…
FAT: the other “F” word: a novel by Dan Radlauer
In “FAT: The Other ‘F’ Word,” Quincy Collins lives in two vastly different worlds. One where he’s a very heavy and awkward freshman at Beverly Hills High School, the other where he’s a Hollywood character actor in commercials and Indie films playing the comic relief or the despicable bully. Guess which world he likes better?
At the start of this Y.A. novel, Quincy gets his big break with a major role as “The Fat Brother” in a hot new Network Sitcom, only to find that wanting and having are two very different things.
First, “size discrimination activists” challenge the integrity of the character he’s portraying. Then his health struggles begin to undermine both his character on the show, and his self-assigned brand as “The Fat Kid Actor.” His dream gig becomes a nightmare, and he starts to question the role he’s playing on TV, as well as in real life.
“FAT: The Other ‘F’ Word” shows a unique person in a unique setting. It explores Hollywood, adolescence, and our culture’s attitudes towards different sized people. Quincy narrates the story with discovery, irony, pain and compassion as he learns that he can’t base his identity on the size of his body.
About the author:
Dan Radlauer is an award winning composer and producer living and working in Los Angeles. After starting his career writing music for literally thousands of television and radio commercials, he started focusing on TV and Film work around 2001. His years doing “ad music” has given him a musical palette that spans from Head Banging Rock and EDM to full orchestral scores as well as world, Jazz and organic acoustics genres. Dan also is a busy music educator and mentor to aspiring young musicians as well as a consultant to various music educational organizations.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.
This is the author’s first novel, and from the information he includes in the author’s note, it seems that he was inspired by some tragic family history to write about the topic, and it is evident that he feels a personal connection to it.
The main details of the plot are well summarised in the book’s description. Quincy Collins is a 14-year-old boy who lives in Los Angeles, in Bel Air (in the least fancy part of Bel-Air, as he explains), and who is an actor, although most of his experience comes from acting in commercials and always playing the overweight kid. He does not mind playing the part; he meets the same heavy boy actors at most auditions, and his best friend, Cole, is one of them. He is very aware of his size, as would be expected from a teenager, and his defense mechanism is humour. He is forever making fat jokes and enjoys the fact that people find him funny and laugh with him, rather than at him behind his back. He gets lucky (he also seems to be a good actor with a particular talent for comedy) and he is cast as one of the main characters in a sitcom. The writer of the show, Paul, is also a large man, and fat jokes are a big part of Quincy’s character in the series, despite the controversy, this creates with the network executives, who are worried about a possible backlash. Things get complicated when Quincy’s health starts to suffer, and he has to make some difficult decisions that affect his size. To make matters worse the protests by pressure groups insisting that making fun of fat people is not funny and calling the jokes in the programme “hate speech” start making Quincy reconsider his attitude towards the series and wonder what is acceptable and what is offensive. Is a fat joke acceptable if a heavy person tells it? Or is it offensive regardless of the size of the comedian telling it?
This is a coming-of-age story that focuses mostly on the issue of weight, health, what is acceptable as a comedy subject, discrimination, and self-identity. The main character, who narrates the story in the first person, is likeable, although his life is not one most fourteen years old youths would easily identify with. Some aspects of it would be like a dream come true for many kids his age (avoiding school and working on TV instead; meeting big stars and having a successful career at such a young age; living in a nice house with caring parents, and a younger sister who also loves him…), while others, like his weight and his health problems, would be a nightmare for anybody. Rather than hard-hitting realism, this YA story chooses a character whose life is in the limelight and whose decisions and actions are scrutinised by all and have a much bigger impact than that of most children his age. If we all know about bullying and the way peer pressure has been magnified by social media and the way our lives are always on display, whether we like it or not, imagine what that would be like for a child actor and one whose main issue is always on display. Quincy cannot ignore what is happening around him, and no matter how hard adults try to protect him, he is faced with some tough decisions.
This is not a novel about really good and terribly bad characters. All of the important characters are likeable once we get to know them a bit, and apart from one or two who are battling their own demons, most of them just seem to be supportive, encouraging and trying to do their jobs as well as they can. We might agree or disagree with some of their opinions or points of view, but they don’t have hidden motives or are devious and manipulative.
The writing flows well; the story is set in chronological order and there are no complicated jumps or convoluted extra storylines. Quincy comes across as a very articulate and fairly smart boy, and we see him become more thoughtful and introspective as the novel progresses, gaining new insights and maturing in front of our eyes. As he acknowledges, he is more used to spending time with adults than with children, and he is empathetic and moves on from only thinking about what he wants to do and what he enjoys, to considering other people’s perspectives. The same goes for his attitude towards food. Although sometimes the process Quincy has to go through to improve his health appears, perhaps, too easy and straightforward, there are moments when his struggling to keep up control is powerfully reflected in the novel and rings painfully true.
Other than the issue of weight, which is at the centre of the novel, I don’t think any other warnings as to the content are warranted. There is no violence, no sex, no bad language, and although some diversity issues are brought up, these are not discussed in detail or gone into in any depth (they are mostly used for comparison). People worried about how offensive the fat jokes might be… Well, that is a bit of a personal matter. We don’t see examples of the actual show, so most of the jokes are those Quincy himself makes, and, in my opinion, they are pretty mild (I struggled with weight when I was a child and a teenager, and I can’t let my guard down even now, so my point of view is not truly neutral), but be warned that some of the content might be hurtful, and it might be advisable to check a sample of the book if you have doubts.
I particularly enjoyed learning more about how a sitcom is filmed, and the whole process of creation, from the rewrites of the script to the wardrobe changes, and the interaction with a live audience. It felt as if I was there, and the author’s personal experience in that world shines through.
In summary, this is a solid YA first novel, with a likeable protagonist who has to face some tough decisions and some hard truths. The ending… is very appropriate and hopeful (although I would have preferred it to end with the end, that is a personal thing), and young people who are interested in acting and/or struggle with any self-image issues (not necessarily to do with weight) are likely to enjoy and feel inspired by the book. And adults will also find plenty to think about within its pages.
Thanks to Rosie and her team for their help and support, thanks to the author for his book, thanks to all of you for reading, liking, commenting, and sharing, and remember to stay safe, and keep smiling!