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The New David Espinoza

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This own voices story from the acclaimed author of The Closest I’ve Come unflinchingly examines steroid abuse and male body dysmorphia. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Matt De La Peña.

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. 

A Chicago Public Library Best Teen Fiction Selection.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published February 11, 2020

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About the author

Fred Aceves

3 books64 followers
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 neighborhood like the one described in The Closest I’ve Come.
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.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 146 reviews
Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone.
1,484 reviews189 followers
April 4, 2022
3.5 Stars rounded up to 4


Well that was an intense 'journey' book that, whilst heavy on the education side, was still incredibly engaging.

Novels that explore body and muscle dysmorphia in males are quite rare so I think that makes this book important. According to the author's note there is an increase in men suffering mental health issues stemming from body image. David was a solid main character that felt quite authentic in terms of his decision making and thought processes as he sought to shake off the bullies by bulking up. It is so refreshing and wonderful to see a story exposing men's vulnerabilities and I think Fred did a great job of this. Don't get me wrong, there was plenty of toxic masculinity in there, but it was portrayed as part of the expected behaviour of the body builders in this story. I don't have any knowledge of the accuracy of the steroid use etc but according to the author this is an ownvoice story. I may or may not have had a few tears towards the end...

I am really pleased we have a copy of this in the library but I will be sure to discuss the content warnings with anyone borrowing the book.
Profile Image for Scottsdale Public Library.
3,174 reviews197 followers
July 17, 2022
We so often encounter stories depicting the harsh realities of body image issues and eating disorders, but few of those stories cast a male as the main character. With "The New David Espinoza," author Fred Aceves offers readers a glimpse into the world of male body building, body dysmorphia, and steroid use. David Espinoza is not only bullied for his slender frame at school, but a video of him changing in the locker room while being slapped by a fellow student goes viral in the most negative way imaginable. This devastating experience inspires David to dedicate his summer months to putting on as much muscle as possible, but slow progress and a desperation to leave his "previous self" behind eventually leads David towards some tempting shortcuts with extremely high costs. Books from unique perspectives touching upon underexplored struggles are always appreciated, and readers of this novel might also enjoy "It's Kind of a Funny Story" by Ned Vizzini, "Heroine" by Mindy McGinnis, and "Skin and Bones" by Sherry Shahan - Christina B.

The New David Espinoza by Fred Aceves narrates the story of a high school senior's transformation from zero to hero, which ends up being not as glamorous as anticipated. Motivated by a viral video of him getting slapped by a bully, David decides to begin a workout journey to create a better version of himself in order to stop the bullying and earn respect. This quickly turns south as he wrestles with the query- how far am I willing to go to get what I want? David toes the line with his new obsession every day, not looking back. This didactic YA novel deals with heavy themes of mental health and drug abuse and illustrates how seemingly instantaneous a life can shift when dealing with these issues. Overall, this book was an enjoyable read. - Adelina G., SPL Teen Volunteer
Profile Image for Mayar El Mahdy.
1,546 reviews1 follower
March 29, 2020

I liked the cover and the synopsis so much. It's like a scarring get-fit montage played with an evil "Eye of The Tiger" in the background.

The topic of male body image is rarely tackled, but it wasn't very well-done here. I feel as if the author told us rather than showing the problem and letting us connect the dots.
Profile Image for Leigh Collazo.
647 reviews214 followers
August 25, 2020
More reviews like this one at MrsReaderPants.

Several years ago, I read Gym Candy by Carl Deuker. 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, a gritty look at a high school football player who falls into steroid drug use. The New David Espinoza reminds me of Gym Candy. I enjoyed David Espinoza's story and recommend it highly for all high school libraries.


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.


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 injection 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.

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.

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.


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.

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 had a restraining order issued against that Ricky kid, and the school would have had to deal with keeping the boys separated. There is no reason David should have had to just suck all that up (and ultimately enroll in another school).

I know that bullying isn't easy 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? How could the school be unaware of this? David's locker is vandalized, and the school's custodian just casually paints it over? Every school I've worked in had cameras in the hallways. If school admin cared at all, they should have known who painted profanity on David's locker. 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.

And 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.


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.


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
Profile Image for Sylvs (NOVELty Reads).
395 reviews42 followers
September 18, 2020
TRIGGER WARNING: Steroid Abuse, Body Dysmorphia, Muscle Dysmorphia, Body Image Issues

This book is anything but light.

I honestly have no words to describe The New David Espinoza. It is such a heavy book that explicitly focuses on muscle dysmorphia and toxic masculinity. It is an important book and I think that everyone should read it considering its narrative voice and how it clearly shows the obsessive and often destructive nature of body negativity.

David Espinoza is someone you would consider to be "skinny". After a video of himself getting slapped by his bully makes him famous on Youtube, David decides to spend the summer "bulking up" in order to prove himself as a man. Things quickly go from bad to worse when David becomes all about his muscle gains, eating foods that can fuel his muscles and starts intense work out regimes to equate to his perceptions of a "perfect body." So obsessed he becomes with this figure that he starts taking steroids (despite the health risk) because... no pain no gain right?

I must admit at the start of the book, I was very wary of how I would find the narrative voice. I knew that if it was first person perspective, I'd be seeing all this obsessiveness over body image and muscle gains. I have to say, after the bullying incident, things did get very intense and heavy and things went very quickly down the wrong path. The voice was, as I expected, obsessive as well which I found a little bit confronting but perfect for the kind of story Fred Aceves had to tell. After around page 200, things start easing off a little bit and the narrative voice did become less intense as David's obsessiveness started to ease off a little as well.

I did find the book very insightful though as I never really gave much consideration to men's body image issues. We hear so much of it surrounding girls with anorexia nervosa and bullimia being prevalent issues in today's youth culture however, I think it is dangerous to assume it's only women who have to deal with poor body image. As superheroes, video game characters and characters seen on screen grow larger in muscle size, so does this extreme pressure to look a certain way dissimilar to what is actually achievable by natural processes. In most cases, this is due to the use of steroids that grow the muscle and gives a person a larger size. Unfortunately, considering steroids are considered as a "taboo" topic, most people are unaware of the dangers and are often lead astray thinking that if they "work out" they would look just like them. This ideology can result in a person feeling terrible about what they associate as a "lack of progress" which was the common trend for David Espinoza. He constantly tried to grow bigger, grow bigger and even bigger and started thinking that he was "small" in comparison to others. Eventually, this became the reverse as he started to think his body above other people's and kept taking steroids. I am just mad that it took a great tragedy for him to realise the harm that his mentality was having on his mental, emotional and physical health.

Even as his family, school life and friendships crumbled around him, he was still obsessed about his goal. He would surround himself with people who could help him achieve what he wanted to achieve. When David did discover muscle dysmorphia, he asked gym owner and professional body builder, Alpha, about what he thought about it which lead to a very interesting conversation that provided great insight into some of the misconceptions of body image issues and body dysmorphia. I particularly liked when Alpha asked David "What is the difference between what we are doing [body building/steroid taking] and motivation?" (or something along those lines) which opened up a channel for discussion where the barriers of toxic masculinity went down just a little bit. I definitely want to have more conversations about this topic and that is thanks to this book!


10 reviews1 follower
June 4, 2021
A decent read that I’d recommend to most teens as you rarely hear about how body dysmorphia impacts young boys. David is a penis and his development in the book is kind of awkward. The flow of the book wasn’t great but it did convey an important message so that’s nice. The climax was decent but not great. But I do love how the number of pages in a chapter appear to correlate with what happens in David’s life. Like when he finally confronts his dad, the chapter and the make up is quick and sweet. But overall, not the best read but pretty decent. I’d say a good 3.5.
Profile Image for Enne.
718 reviews113 followers
October 26, 2020
2 stars

I wanted to like this one so badly but I just… absolutely could not stand the main character. He was so insufferable for most of the story and so rude to literally everyone around him that I was just,,, confused as to how I was supposed to emphasize with him?? Or feel bad for him in any way?? Or, idk, care about what happened to him?? And like, I get that it might have been an intentional choice on the author’s part, but I just...was not impressed with it, either way. I appreciated the ending at least, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the way the plot played out and the character arc that our MC took.
Profile Image for Meagan Houle.
566 reviews10 followers
March 6, 2020
This story of male body dismorphia, a topic so rarely explored, is an important one. We need to talk more openly about steroid abuse, toxic masculinity, and the unrealistic and harmful ideals young men--boys, in most cases--erase themselves to embody. But more than that, this story is big-hearted and brave in a way I admire. David can't help but endear himself to the reader, even when he's making terrible decisions and hurting those he loves most. Who among us can say we've never made similarly terrible decisions to make teenagehood more bearable? How many of us can sincerely claim we haven't done something self-harming, or at least unhealthy, to gain external approval? Don't a lot of us wish we'd had a book like this to give us some understanding and direction while we were in the middle of the storm and stress of those high school years, when the small stuff seemed huge and immutable, promising to define us forever?
I may not be the target audience here, but I think just about everyone will find something healing and hopeful in David's story if they search for it.
Profile Image for Amy.
181 reviews76 followers
February 8, 2020
#gifted Thank you @harperya360 for sending me this ARC for an honest review in return.

The New David Espinoza. I really, really wanted to love this book as it’s about male body dysmorphia and steroid abuse, but unfortunately it fell flat for me *face palm*.
This book covers a really important topic which has been rarely touched and I want people to read it and support it! Just because in the end it wasn’t my favourite book of all time doesn’t mean I want others to be put off by it! Please do pick up this book! It’s an own voices story!
I enjoyed the company of the characters in this book and it is emotional but it just didn’t come together for me in the end. I honestly wish it did.
It’s a different type of book and I know people out there will enjoy it!
Profile Image for Jean.
512 reviews14 followers
November 30, 2022
This book is hard to rate. It covers a very important topic of male body dysmorphia, specifically muscle dysmorphia. There has been more discussion of this topic recently, but it still doesn't come near the spotlight, often being pushed out of the way for more gruesome topics teens deal with in today's online world. The narrative voice was a bit straight forward. David tells you his thoughts, often competing, as he obsesses over his physical size and whether he is finally achieving true manliness. But the depth of feeling is missing in this story. I'm not sure if the target audience would pick up this novel naturally. Due to some of the profanity in the story, schools would have a hard time adding it to the curriculum. I have a feeling this book is going to get lost on the shelf.
Profile Image for Katrina.
379 reviews
March 4, 2020
I appreciated this book, and I think it could prove very helpful to teens and young men who are struggling with body dysmorphia or related problems. That being said, it read more like a cautionary tale than a novel at times. I would have loved to see some of the secondary characters fleshed out a little more, and a little more time spent on the resolution. While the MC felt authentic to me, his decision making felt very abrupt. Overall a solid contemporary novel with a strong message.
Profile Image for Mary Thomas.
377 reviews12 followers
May 18, 2020
An intense and unflinching look at muscle dysmorphia and steroid abuse in teenage boys. This is a really important book - I'm glad it exists and happy to have a copy in my HS collection. I felt so much for David and thought his characterization and impulsive decision making (that seemed logical to him) was really well done.
Profile Image for Sharon.
12 reviews
April 19, 2020
This book was a real eye opener. I never really considered that boys have similiar body image issues as girls. Thank you Fred Aceves for bringing your personal experience into David's character who I found to be very real.
Profile Image for Sydney | sydneys.books.
707 reviews115 followers
December 1, 2022
(3.5) I love reading about heavier topics through YA books because they carefully, sensitively craft the stories in realism without overly graphic content. I can't imagine willingly reading a book about body dysmorphia and steroid addiction in any other sphere than YA. Another great book that discusses drug addiction/abuse through a teenager's eyes is Heroine, along with Roxy and hopefully the forthcoming Vape. This is a mental illness that is underrepresented in YA literature and I am determined to read all of them to further educate myself.

Bonus points to the author for writing a truly own voices story. In the author's note he shares his own journey with body dysmorphia, steroid use, and addiction recovery. The Mexican rep is also own voices. The book is also sex positive, which is always a win for me. Teenagers acting like teenagers in a book about teenagers? It's almost like that's the point of YA.

This book was honest and was unafraid to dive deep into this narrative, making the narrator almost unbearable to read about. The close first person perspective meant we saw every toxic, unhealthy, disordered thought that entered his mind, about his own body and everyone's body that he saw. I went into the story not knowing much of anything about steroids and now I know SO MUCH and I can never look at gym bros the same.

There is definitely some triggering content in this, so I did my best to explain the context for some to help anyone reading this make an informed reading decision.

C/TW: body dysmorphia and intrusive thoughts, steroid abuse and addiction, bullying, physical assault (on page), death by heart attack (on page), animal abuse*, vomiting (not main character, but moderately graphic), strict dieting and exercise**, toxic masculinity and misogyny, fatphobia, needles (graphic use, on page), past death of a parent (cancer)

*a dog is injected with steroids to see how big he'll get. The owner stops and we see the dog return to his normal self and size. The practice is never depicted on page and is not glorified, although it's also not explicitly denounced.
**will be very triggering for anyone recovering from an eating disorder. The behaviors are nearly identical.

I only give this book a 3.5 because like I said, it was UNBEARABLE at times to be in David's head. I also worry that the glorification of steroids lasts a bit too long. The pacing slows down at that point and if a teen is reading it and gets bored at that point they will completely miss the dire consequences and the main character coming to terms with his mental illness. I almost gave up at that point, and I'm quite glad I didn't, because the last 1/3 of this book is phenomenal. But if anyone stopped before that point they might walk away with the wrong takeaways.

Rep: Mexican lead, Puerto Rican side character
Profile Image for Amy.
1,054 reviews31 followers
September 10, 2020
I picked this book up on a whim. Full disclosure: it's probably a 3.5, but I felt like it dealt with an important topic, and it was a quick read, so I rounded up to a 4.

David Espinoza is tired of being bullied. He's been picked on for being the skinniest guy for as long as he can remember, but it finally reaches a tipping point when Ricky, the resident jerk in school, has someone video tape him hitting David in the locker room. In a matter of 24 hours, David has gone from under the radar loser, to the most well-known kid in school with a new nickname "Bitchslap." Tired of this, he cuts ties with social media and joins a gym. His goal: gain 25 pounds of muscle over the summer. He starts off with a new nutrition plan and a solid workout calendar. But a week in, he hasn't made much progress. That's when he realizes what Alpha and all the muscle-heads in the gym already know: without gear (steroids) you aren't ever going to make any serious gains. So David decides to do one cycle, get his bulk up, and then cycle off when school starts. He's going to show everyone, Ricky included, that he isn't someone to be messed with.

As the story progresses, the pitfalls of steroids become PAINFULLY obvious. At times, it felt a bit stereotypical and the writing was a bit juvenile. That is the only real downfall to this book.

Recommended for most YA collections.
Profile Image for Sarkathun.
157 reviews1 follower
February 22, 2021
Bullying and toxic masculinity in teen boys result in body/muscle dysmorphia and steroid use in this difficult novel. After a bullying incident and brutal end of year humiliation, David decides he will gain enough muscle mass over the summer before his senior year that nobody will mess with him anymore. He quickly turns to steroids to make faster gains and his life begins to unravel. The novel centers around his workouts, gains, and, most importantly, his mental state. David's decisions and actions, all dictated by his steroid use, affect his relationships, his living situation and his life changes in ways he did not anticipate. The end is unsatisfying - it doesn't show David's  growth, so much as tell a quick and tidy ending - but the Author's Note puts it into context, psychologically comparing muscle dysmorphia to anorexia, and provides a few resources. The topics of steroid use and muscle dysmorphia are rare in YA literature, and may be eye opening for readers.
Profile Image for Marcie.
78 reviews3 followers
March 8, 2023
A 17 year old boy goes viral for for the wrong reasons and decides to spend the summer before his senior year working out and getting as big as possible. With that, he changes his personality as well, and that leads to consequences larger than he can imagine.

This book is an honest reflection about what it means to grow up in a time riddled with insecurities, grief, body dysmorphia, and what it means to ‘be a man.’
Profile Image for Amy Formanski Duffy.
340 reviews19 followers
May 20, 2020
A rate look at a teen guy's struggle with muscle dysmorphia. After a video of David getting slapped by a bully goes viral on YouTube, David becomes obsessed with working out and gaining muscle. It affects his relationships with his family, friends, and girlfriend. David thinks and speaks like a real teen bro, which saves this from feeling like a preachy 80s After School special. The author experienced similar stuff as a teen, so it feels authentic. Worth its weight in teen novels. (Sorry I had to make one terrible pun!)
Profile Image for Kim.
86 reviews1 follower
February 26, 2020
Everyone read this book! Boys/Men struggle with body image problems too and it's important to acknowledge them! And this book is a good way to start and to become aware of this problem.
Profile Image for Justin.
130 reviews5 followers
February 18, 2020
While not the most subtle book ever written, The New David Espinoza confronts the realities of male body dysmorphia/steroid use and does so in an affecting way. The complex relationship between David and his well-meaning but misguided mentor Alpha is especially moving.
Profile Image for Just Some Reviewer.
267 reviews1 follower
September 25, 2020
No rating because it doesn't feel right to give this anything less than it deserves—but how am I supposed to know how to rate it?

Listen. This is an important book. But some things held me back from loving it. One of the main things is that the paragraphs are so short that the prose seems choppy and awkward at times. Emotion is crammed into these little sentences that make the writing feel off.
My goal has been totally crushed. I don't know whether to scream, punch, kick, or just die. I can't even be here right now.

Maybe many readers will see nothing wrong with it or with the shorter paragraphs, but it just took me out of the story sometimes.

I also found some use of slang and some phrases a little cringeworthy.
Three bags in each hand when this would’ve taken me at least two trips at the start of summer. I’m so baller.

Part of me is like, Great! My progress will continue! Another part is like, Noooo!

I also felt like the action wasn't drawn out enough. I sometimes felt like my eyes skimmed right over CRUCIAL parts of the book because, again, everything was smashed together. I wanted to know more about what was happening instead of just "I was mad. I punched him! And then he fell." (This is a gross oversimplification.)

BUT that doesn't mean that I disliked the book. In fact, that's why I'm not rating it. The prose itself wasn't always my style, but you know what kept me reading?

1. The characterization. I wasn't super attached to David, the narrator, but some of the side characters are fantastic. I also loved seeing the dynamic David had with his family, and I wanted more of that.

2. The message and how it was given. I can't say that I can understand the muscle dysmorphia that David has to face, but I know dysmorphia itself. And I hated seeing myself in this book.
All summer I’ve been thinking about my body, and I’ve only taken a break from that to think about other people’s bodies.

There's also that very common feeling of panic when someone has to hide something. I think this was also done well in Heroine by Mandy McGinnis. The sneakiness and the knowledge that something is wrong. The denial and the fury and the fear. That was done so well.

I honestly don't know why this book hasn't gotten more attention. Its message should be heard. It's important. I may have my grievances with some aspects of it, but it's still 100% worth a read.
February 27, 2020
“Looking in the mirror, my first thought is that I hate my pathetic body. That’s okay, I remind myself. I’m finally doing something about it.”

4/5 stars!

I have always been aware that men experience as many body issues as women and I think I’ve only grown more and more aware with the rising popularity of superhero movies. Especially after reading about the kind of extreme conditions actors have themselves through in order to avoid judgement from audiences. However, this book really forced myself to look at the reality of how men are subjected to this judgement on their bodies in ways I never thought about before. I, of course, haven’t experienced it personality, but I definitely have a history with eating disorders and body issues in general. I’m very thankful to this book for talking about a topic that people don’t really treat like the problem it is. And in a YA book, which is important since high school is

The book centers on David Espinoza, who is desperate to transform his body before the end of the summer, in the hopes of trying to get his school to forget the viral video of him getting bullied and finally getting some respect. When he worries about not making enough progress fast enough, his fitness journey takes a turn down a dark and dangerous path that might cost him more than he anticipated.

I absolutely felt for David with every page of this book. I could imagine readers getting upset with him or frustrated at times, but I honestly very stopped caring about him. From the first chapter, I understood that he was just this guy, who loves his family, has a good head on his shoulders, but is fundamentally insecure. Which really broke my heart, just smashed it against the wall. He’s such a good brother and son, every scene with his family just made my heart overflow. He had a vibrant personality that you can feel withering as the novel moves, which just felt like excellent writing.

Plus, I feel like I had to love him because I understood his mentality so well. Every time he readjusted his goals and pushed himself further and further, beyond the lines he had set for himself, I recognized it all too well. And it’s really not that rare. The book discusses really well how even the people we admire and recognize as role models can be unsatisfied with themselves. Internally, we always tell ourselves how we don’t measure up to those around us when everyone else is doing the exact same thing. Which, as the book shows, is like- stupid exhausting.

I also loved the way that Mexican culture was tied to this. Being Mexican, I definitely understood how pressure from parents affects the way you grow up thinking about your body. It’s really common to have nicknames in Spanish that just describe your body, or the thing you may hate about your body. Honestly, it’s kind of messed up sometimes. There’s no malice in it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hear malice in our own heads.

The only aspect of this book that I’m desperate to zoom in on is the negative self-talk. I don’t want to go in too deep to avoid spoilers, but it was the most disturbing part of the book for me. Partly because of how vicious it is, but also how accurate it is. Which is why I mention it at all. David’s internal narration whenever he thinks about himself and his body is so accurate it actually pained me to read it. It’s a part of the novel that stood out to me as particularly poignant on how we need to talk to teenagers about mental health.

In a really simple way, mental health has a lot to do with how people treat themselves, which can be easily described as “that little voice”, the one that whispers about your weight, what your friends think of you, and how much you’re worth. This book shows how skilled that voice is in lying when it’s been trained that way. David’s story also shows how hard it is to stop believing it. In that sense, the pacing and plot arc of this book was really fantastic. You really get a sense for how David’s training correlates with his mental health over the summer and onward. The decent for David going further and further down a path that leads him away from what he loves.

You know the phrase, “Tell me who are your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are”? Well, it sounds better in Spanish, but that phrase is also a big chuck of this book. I don’t buy that your friends fundamentally change you as a person. I think we change our friends based on what we want, even if it’s not a "good" want, we can only change when we want to. The issue is when we want to be changed for the unknowable worse. David’s support group, the people in his life who care about him really shined in this book. The different ways that they weigh on his mind and how they try to reach out meant the world to me throughout the book.

TL;DR: This heart-breaking novel takes you down with David on his heart-breaking journey that leads to re-examining how you’ve thought about male body standards, addiction, and what a “healthy” body looks like. This book delivers hard truths and vulnerable writing on a subject that people seem more than happy to keep quiet on.

E-galley provided by Epic Reads and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. All quotations and opinions are my own and based off an uncorrected proof.
Profile Image for Garret Dorn.
8 reviews
September 9, 2020
I give the book a 5 star rating as it is a part of a genre I enjoy. The book by Fred Aceves was relatable in some aspects as body image is one of the main things teens struggle with. It also talked about bullying as the main character who wasn’t a large person was always bullied for his size which made him an easy target. Another interesting part of the book was when David finally realized that family was the ones supporting him the whole time when he didn’t even notice.
Body image is one of the things most teenagers worry about. As a teenager, I catch myself worrying about what clothes to wear or how lean I look. David Espinoza, the main character, begins to worry about how muscular or lean he looks after a video of a high school bully being him up goes viral on YouTube. He heads into a downward spiral as he somehow gets into his head that steroids are the only way he can get bigger and stronger in a short amount of time. As David feels he is a nobody without steroids which obviously shows that he is obsessed with the way he looks. Body image can be a positive or negative thing as it can motivate you to become the best person that you can be or it can take you down a different path, into a downward spiral.
Bullying is another subject throughout the book. David’s arch nemesis is Ricky who constantly bullied him for his size and strength. After a video of David getting beat up by Ricky went viral David decided to change himself and his main motivation was to one day destroy Ricky. This eventually caused David to see steroids as his only option to gain the amount of size that he wanted over the summer. His main motto is, “That which does not kill me will make me stronger” (Aceves 318). Eventually David does grow in size and plans to beat up Ricky during lunch, but instead is beat up again by Ricky as size and strength are not the only factors that win a fight. David is knocked out by Ricky and forced to go to a behavioral school which further diminishes his pride and plummets his confidence once again. David did learn a good lesson though as size and strength are not always going to win the fight.
Finally, what appealed to me the most was when David finally admitted he had not realized that his family and girlfriend were his number one supporter. Half way through the book his Dad realizes that he is on steroids which enrages David causing him to pack up all his belongings and live with his new “friend” Alfonso. Later in the book, Alfonso eventually dies later due to his long profound use of steroids causing plaque build up in his heart which lead to the fatal heart attack. While attending Alfonso's funeral David’s conscience finally kicks in as he realizes that he had turned his back on his family and girlfriend as the steroids changed who he was. In the end, David makes amends as he says, “Right here in the lot of Espinoza Auto Repair, with the sun blazing down on us, he holds me in his arms as I jerk with sobs” (Aceves 315).
David finally figured out that he had his priorities mixed up and that his family was what needed to come first. I strongly recommend this to anyone who loves a great book about how a teenager finds a way to be himself and not worry about being someone he is not. It is a great book for a teenage level reader as it is relatable to that age group and has a great inspirational message behind it.
413 reviews2 followers
May 20, 2020
This is a good book. I really enjoyed reading it. I didn't want to put it down.

The story itself is simple, straightforward, black-and-white, worthy of a cringy afterschool special. Every plot point is predictable as hell. What makes this fascinating are the smaller details and the sensitive treatment of the mc's thoughts and feelings. The mc goes on a very dark journey but the author really lets you inside that trip. You get to hear all the thoughts and feelings that come along the way, including embarrassing thoughts and thoughts that you would never, ever share with anyone else. Sometimes the mc acts like a real jerk and he has some real asshole-ish thoughts but he also is basically a nice kid at heart and we can see that. The funny thing that happens is that even though I knew that the mc was doing things he should never have done and that he was treating people very badly, including himself, I was still rooting for him every step of the way. I really wanted him to get what he wanted, even though I realized that he probably wouldn't. This is where the overly simplistic narrative and clear-cut good vs bad nature of the story falls down a bit. I wish the author could have given David just one win or just one moment of glory along the way. I know it would cut against the moral message of the story, but as a reader, I was really starving for that morsel. David and his new friends do get some joy in their lives now and then, like at a celebratory barbecue they have at one point. But David never gets his satisfaction or closure when it comes to dealing with his bully and as a reader I really wish that had been handled differently.

There is a reunion towards the end of the book that is the only moment of real emotion in the entire novel. It's a good moment, but basically this book will not touch your emotions.

There is an afterword that informs us that this story is quite autobiographical in nature. That did not surprise me because of the fresh and insightful look at the mc's thoughts throughout the story. I really appreciate the author's courage and daring in putting this material out there so honestly and without apologies. There is no politically correct bullshit in this book. We get the character, warts and all, including ideas that are inappropriate and even offensive. This is a 17-year-old boy and he is a sexual being and that is an ever-present part of the story, as it should be for believability.

I recommend this. I will eagerly read anything else this author writes. I hope that in the future he will be more willing to give the reader at least some of what they want. I think that this sense of denial or abnegation is the main reason I felt so little from the book. High points as well as low points are needed to really involve the reader's heart.

I didn't explicitly mention how refreshing it is to read something really different from what I usually read, so I will throw that in the mix before closing out this review.
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