Title: Putting Make-Up on the Fat Boy Author: Bil Wright Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers Year: 2011 Pages: 219 Genre: Realistic Fiction Themes: Acceptance, LGBTQ+ Age Range: 7th-12th Grade Summary: from Goodreads
Carlos Duarte knows that he's fabulous. He's got a better sense of style than half the fashionistas in New York City, and he can definitely apply makeup like nobody's business. He may only be in high school, but when he lands the job of his dreams--makeup artist at the FeatureFace counter in Macy's--he's sure that he's finally on his way to great things. But the makeup artist world is competitive and cutthroat, and for Carlos to reach his dreams, he'll have to believe in himself more than ever.
I've read a lot of LGBTQ+ themed literature for youth, and I find that they sometimes go out of their way to show that not all gay men are flouncy, flamboyant, or feminine. And while this is certainly true, there are also gay men that proudly all of those things. I understand the desire to bust stereotypes, but where is a young, flamboyant gay youth who loves fashion and drama to go for a fictional character that looks like them?
Well, one place they can go is this entertaining exploration of one young gay man's journey through his first job and his first love. It would have been easy for Wright to create a caricature of a flamboyant young gay man, and Carlos does have many qualities that have become tropes when writing gay characters. He loves fashion and make-up, he eschews friendships with boys to hang out with girls and women, and he is not afraid to wear thigh-high women's boots if they make him look fierce. But Carlos is more than just a pretty, well-made up face. He also deals with bullying from his sister's boyfriend and her co-workers, he vies for his mother's acceptance, and he navigates the tough neighborhood where he lives with grace and humor. Living in poverty is not easy for anyone, and for a young man with big dreams and expensive tastes, it's even less so. While Carlos is conflicted about his relationships with his mother and sister, he loves and deeply cares for them to the point that he is willing to stand up to some scary situations to help them.
He's also navigating the world of high school, and dealing with his first major crush. But he demonstrates an almost single-minded dedication to getting himself launched in the world of make-up. When he gets a job at a high-end Macy's counter, he is beside himself with joy. And when he accidentally ends up with one of daytime television's biggest stars as a client, he can't believe his luck. But he soon learns that in the real world, especially in the competitive make-up game, there are just as many people wanting to tear you down as build you up.
While some of the events are fairly unrealistic, Carlos himself feels pretty real. He can be selfish and self-centered, his moods can change in an instant, and he feels awkward and lonely more often than not. I've known young gay men like Carlos. I've watched some of them grow into confident young men, and some have continued to flounder as they reach young adulthood. The ones that make it have a quality that Carlos has in spades-a fundamental belief in themselves, and an acknowledgement of their own self-worth. May we create a world where all of the young Carloses out there in the world can feel the same.