David Espinoza is tired of being messed with. When a video of him getting knocked down by a bully’s slap goes viral at the end of junior year, David vows to use the summer to bulk up— do what it takes to become a man—and wow everyone when school starts again the fall.
Soon David is spending all his time and money at Iron Life, a nearby gym that’s full of bodybuilders. Frustrated with his slow progress, his life eventually becomes all about his muscle gains. As it says on the Iron Life wall, What does not kill me makes me stronger.
As David falls into the dark side of the bodybuilding world, pursuing his ideal body at all costs, he’ll have to grapple with the fact that it could actually cost him everything.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs; Mild sexual themes; Strong language
Booklist (December 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 8))
Grades 9-12. Seventeen-year-old David Espinoza is sick and tired of being too skinny. After getting caught on video on the last day of school as a bully lays him out cold with a slap across the face, David begins to withdraw, deciding to devote himself to bulking up before the start of the next school year. He finds a gym close to home, run by a well-known young bodybuilder, but after a few workouts and not enough gains, he comes to the realization that all the YouTube bodybuilders he’s been following might well have bulked up with some extra help: steroids. David’s journey to an ideal body is fraught with pitfalls as he alienates his girlfriend and his family, develops muscle dysmorphia, and witnesses some truly horrific side effects of steroid use among his new friends. Aceves (The Closest I’ve Come, 2017) sometimes focuses more on the problem of steroids than David as a character, but the book still stands out through its examination of toxic masculinity, body image, and the dangers of pursuing perfection.
Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2019)
An intense look at male body dysmorphia from the author of The Closest I’ve Come (2017).David Espinoza has always been tormented for his skinny physique, but when the high school bully slaps him in the locker room and catches it on camera, the video becomes a viral meme in his Florida town. The Mexican American teen decides to join a gym and build enough muscle over the summer to lay to rest the incessant teasing. There, he meets bodybuilders who influence him to take steroids in order to speed up the results. With graphic detail, Aceves presents the psychological, physical, and emotional effects of muscle dysmorphia. David’s relationships fall apart—with his family, friends, girlfriend—and the author, who also experienced this disorder in his youth, authentically delineates the ramifications of this illness, which is more prevalent than many believe. After a shocking climax, David finally comes to grips with his addiction, perhaps a little too quickly, but readers won’t mind the not-so-pat resolution. Frank discussions about the sexual lives and drug use of adolescents add authenticity to the story, and the expletive-laden prose makes this more appropriate for older teens. Toxic masculinity, which is cringingly part and parcel of the testosterone-filled world that Aceves portrays, is threaded through the narrative in a contextualized way. David’s friends are mostly Latinx—he has a Puerto Rican girlfriend and a Dominican best friend Searing and thoughtful. (author’s note, resources) (Realistic fiction. 14-adult)
About the Author
Fred Aceves was born in New York to A Mexican father, and a Dominican mother, which makes him 100% Mexican, 100% Dominican, and 100% American. He spent most of his youth in Southern California and Tampa, Florida, where he lived in a poor, working class neighborhood. At the age of 21 he started traveling around the world, living in Chicago, New York, The Czech Republic, France, Argentina, Bolivia, and Mexico, his father’s native land.
Among other jobs, he has worked as a delivery driver, server, cook, car salesman, freelance editor, and teacher of English as a second language. His website is fredaceves.com/
Around the Web
The New David Espinoza on Amazon
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The New David Espinoza on LibraryThing
The New David Espinoza Publisher Page