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Mix and Match —

July 17, 2012
by

The first I heard of Fat Kid Rules the World was when Shaunta mentioned it back in May. Before that post, I’d never heard of the movie, let alone the book. But the energy and support that made the FKRTW Kickstarter campaign a runaway success intrigued me. Individual people investing $158,000 for a film about a fat kid who isn’t a Chris Farley derivative? What the hell is going on?

Then I learned about the Tugg the Fat Kid campaign. Tugg is a website which allows anyone, anywhere to act as promoter for a film that would otherwise not be available in markets outside of New York and Los Angeles. After raising production funding through crowd-sourcing, FKRTW took the next logical step and began crowd-sourcing the promotional work as well.

Sure enough, the fans sprung into action and requested over 700 screenings in the first week alone. Both Shaunta and I have signed up, eager to contribute to this project.  Yet, I still had no idea what “this project” was.

So, I picked up a copy of Fat Kid Rules the World by KL Going at our library expecting a kid’s story about growing up fat.

Yawn.

Most of these coming of age stories that feature fatties are pretty formulaic: fat kid is ostracized; fat kid finds a friend; fat kid gains acceptance and self-esteem; fat kid gets his shit together; fat kid loses weight; fat kid becomes not-fat kid, gets girlfriend and wins life.

The end.

What I didn’t expect was to be intensely moved by something classified as “young adult” fiction.

The Fat Kid in question is Troy Billings, a 6’1″, 300 pound kid who is painfully aware of how much he stands out at 17 years old. In fact, he’s convinced that the world is watching, and laughing at, everything he does, everything he says, and everything he is.

It’s a common mindset for the average teen, most of whom are programmed for narcissism and self-importance, but for the teen who physically cannot conform, who cannot blend in, this innate narcissism can be brutal at best and deadly at worst.

Feeling like life’s biggest loser, Troy stands at the edge of a subway platform, wondering whether the gruesome sight of his fat, mangled body splattered across the tracks would be more funny than tragic.

There to witness, and ultimately save him from, flirtation with death, Curt MacCrae prevents Troy from killing himself and, in exchange, asks only for a meal in return. Troy’s salvation turns out to be the legendary guitarist who dropped out of his high school a few years back. Now (mostly) homeless and hooked on prescription drugs, Curt spends his time busking and occasionally playing gigs at a punk club in the Village.

During their meal in a diner, Curt proposes that the two of them form a punk rock band with Troy as drummer. Although Troy hasn’t played the drums since seventh grade, Curt thinks Troy can beat the hell out of the drums in a way that most seasoned drummers can’t. Troy wants to join Curt, but he struggles throughout the book to overcome his self-doubt and hyper-self-consciousness.

And this is about all of the story I’m willing to share because Fat Kid Rules the World is one of those books where the plot best served fresh by the author herself. Not knowing what would happen to Curt and Troy next drove me to devour this novel in a few days, as I got a glimpse at the characters who would influence Troy’s decisions, both good and bad.

In particular, the relationship between Troy and his father and brother, Dale, are fascinating. After the death of their mother, Troy and Dale grow more hostile toward each other, while Troy believes his father has become disappointed in him, especially compared to his athletic and popular little brother. But as Troy gains self-confidence (without losing a single pound) it’s fascinating to watch their opinions evolve on Troy’s band and his new friend.

But the one question that stays at the forefront of the reader’s mind, right up to the very last word of the book is “Will he or won’t he kick ass?” Finding the answer is the real fun of the book.

Going pulls no punches with FKRTW. The subject matter includes swearing, drug use and abusive parenting, which may limit the youth audience to mature teenagers. But don’t make my mistake and assume that young adult fiction is for kids.

Au contraire, mon frere, FKRTW may be more enjoyable for those who have survived the trials of childhood and already know that there is an expiration date on the effectiveness of small-minded bullies and petty tormenters: high school graduation.

With the fortunate of hindsight, I can laugh more than I cringe at Troy’s attempts to blend in like a sore thumb. I found myself wanting to reassure Troy that if he could just get through high school, he’d have an easier time dealing with the assholes that life throws his way. But most tormented teens have a hard time believing that life will ever get better for them.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re incredibly fat or incredibly thin, really tall or really short, physically disabled or have a pimple-peppered face: Fat Kid Rules the World sends a message of self-acceptance that is louder and clearer than anything any adult can send to a kid coping with the day-to-day misery of stigma.

Despite being a petite woman, KL Going has inhabited the soul of the fat kid and brought to life a character with whom we can cry, cringe, laugh, and cheer. I strongly believe that Fat Kid Rules the World will stand the test of time as a novel that explores the physical privilege that permeates our culture at the turn of the 21st century, and turns that privilege on its head.

Though the novel begins with despair, by the end we have all learned that you don’t fuck with the fat kid.

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