March 15, 2012

Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy

by Bill Wright
ages: 14+
First sentence: "When I was twelve, I convinced my mother to let me do her makeup for Parents' Night."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

Carlos Duarte is a genius at makeup. Seriously. And he knows it. He has dreams and ambitions to be a makeup artist to the stars, and it all starts with a job at Macy's FeatureFace makeup counter.

Granted, that doesn't mean it's going to be easy. He has to work part-time after school at the day care center, because his mother's dry cleaning manager job doesn't pull in quite enough money. His older sister, Rosalia, is dating a guy who is truly the scum of the earth. And even though Carlos is good enough (and confident enough) to get the FeatureFace job, he doesn't count on having a manger who is a first-class jealous jerk, bent on thwarting Carlos every step of the way.

The best thing about this novel, I think, is Carlos's resilience. In the course of the novel, he's dumped on, picked on, loses one of his best friends (through a mistake he made), gets beaten up, deals with the pettiness of his boss, and the boy still keeps on ticking. This makes him sound like the energizer bunny, and he's not. But, even though this boy faces more challenges than you can shake a stick at (being a gay teenin NYC isn't the cakewalk that you would suppose it is...), he is hopeful and optimistic and confident that he can do what it takes to be successful. It was ....well.... if not inspiring, then at least affirming. And as a reader, you liked Carlos (in spite of all the makeup talk, for me, at least), and you wanted him to succeed, to find that right guy, to have that happy ending.

Wright is smart enough to not give it to us, though. While the ending isn't quite happy, it is hopeful, which is better. It's not all wrapped up in a nice little package; it's messy and complicated, like life. But, mostly because of Carlos's attitude, it's full of a hope that he can -- and will -- do great things.

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