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I’m sometimes asked by non-writers why everyone reads Young Adult fiction these days. I have two theories. First, perhaps the internet is destroying everyone’s ability to concentrate, so shorter books are now what people want. (Before Harry Potter and Bella Swan raise objections, I’ll add that there are exceptions.) The second theory was sparked by a comment I read from author Becky Cochrane. Teenagers are subject to astonishingly powerful emotions. When teenagers suffer a loss or have their hearts broken for the first time, they have no frame of reference to know if they will ever recover. The exuberant enthusiasm for the future and the honesty of adolescent pain can be compelling and revelatory to teen and adult readers alike.
Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy (winner of the 2012 Stonewall Book Award) is a perfect example. Carlos Duarte is a New York teen with a dream—to be a famous makeup artist. His mother isn’t thrilled and wants him to be the “man of the house” she needs him to be, especially when it comes to protecting his older sister, Rosalia, from her apparently abusive boyfriend. With the help of good friends and despite a new enemy, Carlos lands a part-time job at the FeatureFace counter at Macy’s. Soon, celebrity actress Shirlena Day, impressed with Carlos’ talent, asks him to demonstrate to the grouchy makeup artist at her TV studio that there’s such a thing as hypoallergenic cosmetics, and Shirlena needs them. Even readers with zero interest in being a makeup artist will be swept up in Carlos’ vitality, and it seems like his career takes off overnight.
However, author Bil Wright wields the maxim “put your protagonist up a tree and throw rocks at him” to great effect. Carlos must deal with dangerous homophobes (including Rosalia’s boyfriend) and a jealous boss at FeatureFace who has it out for him from day one. There’s also the loss of a close friend thanks to an incident that can’t be completely be blamed on Carlos even if he takes full responsibility and the lonely, confusing frustration of a major crush on a sweet-natured classmate who might or might not be gay.
Carlos is a character who is not afraid to live life at full volume. He makes mistakes, but when knocked down, he always gets back up. He’s a wonderful role model for gay teens, and Wright finishes with a logical, realistic ending that is thoroughly satisfying while still leaving the door to a sequel a tiny bit open. Here’s hoping.
– Gavin Atlas