3 stars · fiction · young adult

What is Real by Karen Rivers

What is Real

Author: Karen Rivers

Pages: [paperback] 295

Favorite Character: Dex


Dex Pratt is seventeen years old, a star basketball player and a budding filmmaker. And his life has been turned upside down. His parents have split up and his mother has remarried and taken him to a new life in the city. When his father attempts suicide and fails, Dex returns to their small town to care for him. He is not, however, prepared for how much everything has changed. Gone is the suburban split-level on the outskirts of town. Gone are the new cars, fancy bikes and other toys. Now he and his wheelchair-bound dad live in a rotting rented house at the back of a cornfield. And, worse, his father has given up defending marijuana growers in his law practice and has become one himself.
Unable to cope, Dex throws his camera in the trash and begins smoking himself into a state of surrealism. He begins to lose touch with what is real and what he is imagining. And then there are the aliens…And the crop circle…And the girl-of-his-dreams…
What Is Real presents a poignant portrait of suburban family life gone south. Dex Pratt is smart, funny, creative and compulsive; he’s also angry and disillusioned. But most of all he’s a character that readers won’t soon forget.


This book was certainly . . . interesting. Told completely from Dex’s perception, you’re seeing things only through his eyes. Meaning if he can’t tell the difference between what is actually happening and what he is only hallucinating, you can’t, either. And because Dex is high for nearly the entire length of the novel, things quickly become distorted and it’s easy to become as confused as he is.

I think ‘confused’ is a great way for me to describe how this book left me. It was good in its own right, with wonderful imagery and a neat writing style. Every so often the narrative would be interrupted with stage directions, Dex trying to direct the movie that is his entire life. While these scenes show him trying to get a hold on things, they also show that everything he is telling you could be a complete lie. And every person reading the book has to ask themselves-What is real?

 Some of the minor characters had the potential to be great in their supporting roles, but didn’t seem to quite get there. They had the means, but weren’t shown in a way that really relates them to the reader. I didn’t like that everyone in the story seemed so foreign, like nothing like this could ever happen.

Some warnings before you pick this up: There’s heavy language in this book, along with adult themes, the most obvious being drug use.

I give What is Real 3/5 stars. While some parts of it were good, I don’t think I’ll be rereading this one.


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