With its focus on high school steroid use, The New David Espinoza reminds me of Gym Candy by Carl Deuker, which I read several years ago. A book with a football player in full gear on the cover, Gym Candy was certainly not the kind of YA book I normally gravitate toward. I read it simply because it was on the Texas LoneStar Reading List that year.
Surprisingly, I loved Gym Candy, and I equally loved The New David Espinoza. I enjoyed this gritty look at high school bullying and steroid use and recommend it highly for all high school libraries.
On the last day of 11th grade, 17-year old David Espinoza is attacked in the school locker room. The video goes viral and quickly earns David the name “Bitchslap.” Angry and afraid, David decides he will workout this summer. Lift weights at a local gym and become so strong that no one will ever mess with him again. It isn’t long before David falls deeply into steroid use and addiction.
THE SHORT VERSION
A super-important book for all high school libraries. I like the emphasis on body dysmorphia in males and the fact that in the beginning, David isn’t even an athlete at all.
STEROIDS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BODY DYSMORPHIA IN THE NEW DAVID ESPINOZA
This book holds nothing back. Descriptions of steroid use and its effects on the human body aren’t pretty. David is candid about his painful, steroid-induced back acne, the impact of roid rage on his relationships, and the effects on his sex drive and reproductive organs. Descriptions of injections and details of how steroids are actually used also appear throughout the story. No sugar-coating here.
Body and muscle dysmorphia in males is a major part of the story, and I loved how author Fred Aceves writes of his own experiences with steroids and compares it with anorexia and bulimia in the Author’s Note.
I also like the emphasis on toxic masculinity. Boys and teens are too-frequently told to “man up” and “stop crying.” Our societal gender expectations aren’t confined to only girls. This book will surely help readers (both male and female) become more aware of body dysmorphia and possibly recognize it in themselves or their friends. There aren’t very many YA books about steroid use, and this is the only one I know of that addresses body dysmorphia in males.
HIGH SCHOOL BULLYING GOES UNCHECKED
I know it’s realistic that David’s high school doesn’t appear to address the bullying in any way, but oh, it just hurts my heart that David feels his only recourse is to get on steroids. If I were David’s father (who knew about the viral YouTube video early on), I would have pressed charges against the bully and his family. I would have been at the school the very next day. This assault–YES, it’s an assault–and video clearly happened on school property. Perhaps if the adults around David did a better job standing up for his right to a peaceful existence, David would never have gotten on steroids to begin with.
I know that bullying isn’t easy for schools to deal with, but if that kind of beat-down happened to an adult, you better believe lawyers and police would be involved. Why should this snot-nosed kid get away with it just because he is in high school?
SCHOOLS HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY
How could the school be unaware of this? David’s locker is vandalized, and the school’s custodian just casually paints it over? I’ve taught for 18 years in six schools on two continents. Every school I’ve worked in had cameras in the hallways. If school admin cared at all about their bullying problem, they should have known who painted profanity on David’s locker. They should have asked questions and looked for witnesses.
And do none of the teachers or admins have kids at this school who might have told them about the viral video? Are there really no students who brought this to the attention of a teacher or admin? I don’t believe for one second that the school wasn’t aware.
Last, who’s to say Ricky isn’t bullying other kids even worse than David? Bullies don’t just stop; this kind of behavior is part of their personality. The school is responsible for their students’ safety. If they cannot do even the most basic due diligence, then heads should roll, starting at the top.
DAVID’S DAD IS WAY TOO PASSIVE
David is surrounded by supportive friends and family. David’s father is an excellent role model, and David is close to his eight-year old sister, Gaby. He also has several supportive friends and a nice girlfriend.
That said, there is absolutely no way I would sit passively by (like David’s dad did) and let my minor child deal with all that on his own. I would have pressed legal charges and had a restraining order issued against that Ricky kid, and the school would have had to deal with keeping the boys separated. David has the right to be safe at school. There is no reason David should have had to just suck all that up (and ultimately enroll in another school).
DIVERSITY IN THE NEW DAVID ESPINOZA
David, his family, and one of his friends are Mexican-American. David’s girlfriend Karina hails from a Puerto Rican family. David’s family is not poor, but they do have to watch their money. David is saving up for a used car and works in his dad’s garage business and later, in the gym where he works out.
LIBRARIANS WILL WANT TO KNOW
Themes: bullying, steroid use, mental health, body dysmorphia, muscle dysmorphia, death of a parent, grief, bodybuilding, weightlifting, toxic masculinity
Would adults like this book? Yes. I actually think high school teachers should read this book so they can better-recognize the signs of steroid use in their students.
Would I buy this for my high school library? YES! Students who read it will be able to recognize David in themselves or in their friends.
Would I buy this for my middle school library?: No. The content is more appropriate for high school.
Language: medium-high; plenty of profanity and slang references to male anatomy
Sexuality: medium; David and Karina have been sexually active in the past, but do not have sex during the book. Male masturbation, arousal, and impotence are also referenced several times.
Violence: low-medium; multiple incidents of bullying, cyber-bullying, and assault
Drugs/Alcohol: high; steroid use, administration, and side effects (both short- and long-term) are main plot points
Other: David frequently lies to his father and bribes his 8-year old sister with candy to cover for him
BOOKTALK OR DISPLAY THE NEW DAVID ESPINOZA WITH:
Have you read The New David Espinoza? What did you think?