Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book Review: The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

Title The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl
Author Barry Lyga
Genre Young Adult, Literary/Commercial Fiction
Publication Date 2007
Rating A+

Summary Don (aka, Fanboy) is a high school sophomore who is having the crappiest of years--school stinks, home stinks, and a lack of friends stinks--but then he meets Kyra (aka, Goth Girl) and things start to change. She influnces him and is the first to see his secret, his graphic novel, and compels him to break out of his mold. Kyra has secrets though...

First Line "There are three things in this world that I want more than anything. I'll tell you the first two, but I'll never tell you the third."

Review The opening paragraph (above) was a really good starting place for this kick-butt story. Lyga takes the icons and ideas of Chabon's Pulitzer-winning Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (which I, personally, believe is a modern re-interpretation of Don Quixote) and brings it down to a YA level. He uses the motif of comics and what they mean to fans, along with their culture, to illustrate some really important stuff about how teens belong, get along, etc.

Fanboy is heart-breakingly accurate. I loved him. I actually cried at parts. I laughed out loud at parts. I got excited at parts. For me this was one of the best books for teenagers that I've seen. I could really see this opening up some interesting discussions and debates.

Some of the bad reviews on come from people who couldn't identify with the character because he doesn't fight back against the bullying and I say, "Really? You can't understand why a kid wouldn't do that?" Let me give you a taste of why Fanboy doesn't fight back when a kid repeatedly hits him during gym class:
"I can't [stop him]. He knows I can't. I'm a computer geek, a comic book geek, a study geek. Even in the Fast-Track classes, I'm apart... 'Just ignore them,' my mother used to tell me, when I was a kid, when I was younger, when the other kids would tease and make fun. 'Why do you care what they think? Just ignore them and they'll go away.' They didn't go away, though. She was wrong about that... What great advice: 'Ignore them.' So I did, even thought they didn't go away, and pretty soon there was nothing to say, nothing to do, because how are you supposed to suddenly stand up to them after years of silence and nothing?" (pp. 15-16).

"[His mom] pokes my right shoulder [where the kid has been repeatedly hitting him] and I want to scream, want to bellow in agony. 'What's that? What is it, Donnie?' I hiss in a breath through clenched teeth, my arm suddenly numb with fire where Mitchell Frampton pummeled it yesterday. 'What is this? What happened to you?' I look at what she's looking at, a massive bruise that discolors my arm from the point of the shoulder muscle up to the clavicle. At the center it's a deep purple that's almost black, lightening to a sickly jaundiced yellow at the edges. I don't know what to say. Or, actually, I know exactly what to say, and that's the problem. What happened to me, Mom? I followed your advice, that's what happened. I followed it for years and it's just that for once someone decided to go beyond name-calling and sniggering and flipping me off and sticking porn in my hands and the occasional shove or push, so someone finally left a mark that even you can't avoid seeing. But there's no point in saying that. I'm fifteen now. What would she do? Call the school? Call Frampton's parents? My word against his, and even if they believed me, so what? He gets suspended a few days and comes back worse than ever," (pp. 23-24).
That's the thing that got the most to me--how empty our advice, as adults, must seem to kids who are in tough situations. Ignore it and it'll go away? Why do we think that's good advice? Do we really think that some other juvenile kid won't love to pick on a weak and silent target? Is it because our kids who, honestly, are weaker would lose in a fight? It's because we know deep down that violence won't solve anything--even if your kid fights back and (miraculously) wins, well, you haven't won. That kid who was damaged enough to want to bully your kid in the first place is now damaged and looking to settle the score. Unfortunately, you've got a school full of hormone-riddled teenagers, none of whom has a fully-developed pre-frontal cortex, and they're going at each other like cannibals. The whole thing sucks, seriously, and Lyga takes a beautiful look at the whole thing.

By the way, after Kyra starts to influence Donnie, he does start to stand up for himself--not only to Frampton, but also to others who try and get him down.

On the topic of Kyra, there's not really a "clean" resolution at the end... Kyra's secrets remain a secret... and I think that's what made this book so awesome. You saw growth, change, you introspected, and all without it falling into a cookie-cutter. Very nice work from Lyga. I'll be putting him on my radar for future books (such as Goth Girl Rising which picks up Kyra's story six months later).

There, honestly, isn't anything that I'd change about this book. I loved it. The A+ probably should have been higher if I could, but I can't, so Lyga will just have to be pleased with perfection.

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