Review Detail

Young Adult Fiction 301
98-pound-weakling gets buff-- but at what cost?
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
5.0
Writing Style 
 
5.0
David is the skinniest kid at high Florida high school, and he's taken his share of bullying about it. On the last day of school, he is randomly hit in the face while changing after gym by Ricky, but figures that he has the whole summer to not have to deal with such foolishness. He's glad to have a good group of friends, as well as a funny, smart and cute girlfriend, Karina who doesn't seem to mind his twig-like arms. At an end of the year party, however, he finds out that Ricky took a picture of him without a shirt on, and even captured the blow that took him down, which was a slap. The video goes viral, and people recognize David and start calling him "Bitchslap". Karina tells him to ignore it, as does his hard working father, but for David, this is the final straw. Taking the money he has saved up from working at his father's auto body shop for a car of his own, David goes to a nearby gym that is run down but a little cheaper than others. Not only that, but the owner, Alpha, is a well known and extremely buff body builder. Using a program put together by a famous actor who got ripped for a movie role, David starts to eat a lot of clean protein and work out every day. He is dismayed at his progress and talks to Alpha, who lets him know that anyone who puts 25 pounds of muscle on in the course of a summer (like David would like to do) is using steroids, or "gear", including the actor David admires. Feeling that he can't go back to school without becoming pumped, David pressures Alpha into selling him steriods. Alpha, who is an enormous user himself, reluctantly agrees, and starts David on a cycle of injections and pills. David continues to eat well and work out and starts to see progress, but also starts to experience side effects; acne, increased libido, and 'roid rage. He doesn't let Karina or his father know about the use, but it starts to create complications in all of his relationships. Karian, who suffered some body dysmorphia of her own, is concerned about David's obsession with his body and tries to help, but he has become blinded by his goal. Eventually, this causes him to fight with his father, and even more out of the house to live with Alpha and work in the gym. At first, David was only going to go through one cycle of the steroids, but the benefits are seductive, and soon he is heavily involved in the "gear" culture. A tragedy is the only thing that makes him able to break free, but will he be able to repair all of his broken relationships?
Good Points
Like Mackall's Boost, Deuker's Gym Candy, Coy's Crackback and Walter's Juice, this #OwnVoices narrative explains why someone would choose this dangerous path, but doesn't sugar coat the horrific side effects. David is dealt a hard lot with Ricky's abuse, and does start on a productive regimen of diet and exercise, but experiences typical teen frustration with the slowness of the progress. His father, who is a larger man himself, doesn't quite understand, but is supportive as long as David keeps up with his other responsibilities. It is also interesting that David does not hide things from his father as well as he supposes, and his father finds out fairly soon and is very concerned.

Karina is also a great character, and I loved the fact that she was interested in David for his personality and not his physique. Her own struggles with body image help her deal with David, and there is a fun interaction early on when David tells her how attractive he is in a way that highlights what a great guy he is. There is some young adult content concerning underage drinking (one boy tries rum and coke put spits it out under a table because it tastes bad) and there are several indications that Karina and David are sexually active, but there are few details.

Alpha's deep involvement in the "gear' culture, and David's complicity in it, are what make this book truly wrenching. Acevedo has a note at the end of the book that details his own experiences with taking steroids when young, which explains the vivid and horrifying details. This hit close to home for me; forty years ago, one of my high school classmates died of a heart attack during his freshman year of college, and it was attributed to steroid abuse.

While there is a level of profanity that makes this more of a high school title, it is a riveting story about a high school boy determined to make a difference in his life at any cost. It reminded me of Geoff Herbach's great novels, like Stupid Fast, and will be hugely popular with teen boys who are involved in high school sports or who are just concerned about their own bodies.
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