Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy

In “Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy” (Simon & Schuster, 2011), author Bil Wright has conjured, in Carlos Duarte, one of the most authentic teen narrators since Holden Caulfield. Sixteen year-old Carlos has a fabulous sense of style, loves makeup, and dreams of becoming “Carrlos, Duarte, makeup artist to the stars!” He imagines “doing Mary J. Blige’s makeup before a concert, or maybe Rihanna’s, or taking a month off from school to go on tour with Janet Jackson because she insisted if she didn’t have me she couldn’t do the tour.”
When he lands a job as a salesman and makeup artist at the FeatureFace counter in Macy’s he’s sure that he’s on his way to achieving his dream. But Carlos’s life is far from perfect. His sister is dating an abusive loser, his single mother struggles to make ends meet, and his boss feels threatened by his up-and-coming employee’s talent and charm. But he’s determined to do right by his mother and sister, even as he struggles to overcome the hurdles his boss places in his path.
Carlos is flamboyantly and unabashedly gay. He turns heads. “All right, I’m not stupid,” Carlos says. “It was raining hard and I had on my black vinyl slicker and the hat that goes with it. And my mascara may even have been smudged a little from so much rain. So, I didn’t look like any of the yuppies in the stupid place. Or those boys in their dirty uniforms. But I never look like anyone else, and that’s the point. I don’t want to look like anyone else.”
Authors and publishers of LGBT literature have worked hard—and with good reason—to overturn the pervasive stereotypes of queer teens. Not every gay teen loves fashion, makeup, and calls his platonic girl friends “darling.” But some do, and the thing I like about this book is that Carlos’s in-your-face style is just one aspect of his complex and layered character. Despite the fact that Carlos is harassed and attacked by his sister’s homophobic boyfriend and his buddies, this is not a Gay Problem Novel. While “Fat Boy” does address some serious issues, it is mostly an entertaining read about a teen—who just happens to be gay—with a burning desire to be a famous makeup artist.
“Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy” won the 2012 Stonewall Book Award, which is given annually to works of exceptional merit for children or teens relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.

This review originally appeared in The News-Gazette, Sunday, February 12, 2012.

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