Publication Date: October 2, 2006
Fanboy has never had it good, but lately his sophomore year is turning out to be its own special hell. The bullies have made him their favorite target, his best (and only) friend seems headed for the dark side (sports and popularity), and his pregnant mother and the step-fascist are eagerly awaiting the birth of the alien life form known as Fanboy’s new little brother or sister.
Fanboy, though, has a secret: a graphic novel he’s been working on without telling anyone, a graphic novel that he is convinced will lead to publication, fame, and—most important of all—a way out of the crappy little town he lives in and all the people that make it hell for him.
When Fanboy meets Kyra, a.k.a. Goth Girl, he finds an outrageous, cynical girl who shares his love of comics as well as his hatred for jocks and bullies. Fanboy can’t resist someone who actually seems to understand him, and soon he finds himself willing to heed her advice—to ignore or crush anyone who stands in his way.
Before I start the more serious portion of this review, can we just take a minute to talk about voice? Barry Lyga rocks at voice. Even when I don't particularly like his characters or what they are doing/saying/thinking; even if I don't want to understand where they are coming from, I do empathize and understand. They are surprisingly authentic. I can feel what they feel, I can see things from their perspective. I am allowed into their heads. I, a 28 year old woman, am emotionally turned into an angsty 15 year old boy -- that takes skill.
I would also like to take a moment to thank Barry Lyga for using real comic book/graphic novel heroes/heroines and their creators for his novel, rather than making people up. It made for a great shout-out to some wonderful works, and a great spring-board into the genre for anyone interested. (Even if it did make me want to go read Gaiman's Sandman immediately following the book.)
Now to actually review the book. At the risk of revealing way more than I mean to or want to, reading The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl was very uncomfortable. It reminded me what it was like to be 13/14/15 year old me. It reminded me what is was like to be systematically bullied and picked on and treated cruelly by students and adults alike. It reminded me of teachers who should have stuck up for me but instead laughed along with the cheerleaders they sponsored or the boys they coached; of principles who didn't need to hear my side of the story. If I was right, someone couldn't play in the game that Thursday; if I was wrong, no one got hurt but me. It was a time of hurt, anger and frustration -- of impotent rage. There were no "It gets Better" Campaigns back then, and I probably wouldn't have believed them if there had been. It is not a fun time or mental space to remember. But it was real.
There were a lot of times while reading The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl that those old feelings (that I have since dealt with in more responsible ways) just welled up and all of that original hurt was felt all over again. You see, I had a list. But I don't think I am alone in that. A lot of us had lists. High School (well, school in a small town, period) was crap for me, it was terrible, it sucked, it felt like it would never end. But it did. It ended and life eventually got better and I learned that I was not alone. Many of those old "tormentors" were dealing with serious things of their own; some are even now friends, real friends. The problem with learning all that later, though, is that finding out later is a little too late for some. In amongst all of this "early intervention" and watching for the "warning signs" for the next school shooter or teen suicide, a lot of teenagers going through normal emotions are made to feel even more weird, even more alone. It is normal to want the people who daily make your life terrible to go away -- even violently. We humans think about and fantasize a lot of things that we would never really act on; that is part of what makes us human. But the teenager sitting at the lunch table, asking themselves how much further the guys at Columbine or guy at Virginia Tech had been pushed before they crossed the line, don't realize that. And it doesn't help that the very teachers and parents who should be helping that teen understand that they are normal, not alone, are often instead looking at the kid's black nail-polish and Misfits shirt and asking themselves the same question -- how long before they snap?
Here enters Barry Lyga's The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. It does a great job of walking that fine line between letting kids know they are not alone and condoning violence against others. It says, you aren't the only one. It is a spot of hope before the "it gets better." I didn't really like it as present day me. There was a little too much angst. I didn't agree with everything it said. There were way too many cut and dried stereotypes. I will probably never reread it. BUT 15 year old Michelle would have loved it. Everything she ever felt or thought would have been validated. She wouldn't have felt so alone in a sea of people who didn't understand her. This book isn't for me, it is for her -- and the millions of other kids out there thinking they are going through a rough time all alone. And I love it for that.
I would quote the entire bumper sticker bit, but it is three pages. Suffice it to say, it is worth reading the book just for that bit. pp 74-76
And my personal favorite (I'm being sarcastic), dodge ball. What genius invented this game? What unrelentingly stupid jackass decided that it was a good idea to take a cluster of people with widely varying body types, strength levels, and skill sets (to say nothing of ever-shifting moralities and ethics), and then encourage them to hit each other with a ball? pg 12
Not that I've given him any cause to think so, but he seems to believe that my dislike of the Jock Jerks is passive, as if I just can't be bothered to go to sporting events. But I actively don't care about them. I mean, I work at not caring about those morons! pg 46
3.5 of 5 stars
This review also appears on Goodreads; I purchased my copy from Barnes & Noble for Nook.