Sunday, February 24, 2008

Review: Barry Lyga - The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy ane Goth Girl

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl is a book that I was either going to love or hate. It's a book about two subcultures that are very close to my heart, yet are often abused in popular media. When I first saw this book, I was scared it was going to be just another gimmick. Fortunately, Barry Lyga is a true fanboy at heart, and between this and his spectacular grasp of the craft of writing, it turned out to be one of the best books that I've read this year.

I'll be one of the first to admit that I'm slightly biased in that regard. As a comic/gaming/reading geek, who is surrounded by other geeks, there was a lot in the book that appealed to me. I got all the references and the in jokes, and felt a special sense of fear and anticipation as to whether the main character was going to acheive one of his major story goals, meeting Brian Micheal Bendis, one of the biggest names in comics. I actually found myself holding my breath for pages at a time leading up to this momentus event. While non-geeks may not get the significance of this, the book is well crafted enough that you would at least understand that it was important to the main character. Lyga was very clever about showing right from the start how important it was by having him checking the website daily to see if Bendis would still be attending the convention. And of cource, various challanges happened along the way that threatened the meeting, really creating high stakes for the character, and drawing you into the book.

You may wonder why I haven't actually introduced the main character yet. There is a reason for that, he remains nameless throughout the book. According to the author, he is called by his name once, but I didn't catch it on my first read though. It makes sense though, as it is 'Fanboy' who is narrating, and what cause would he have for telling us his own name? i don't think i really ever thought about the absesnse until I read an interview with Lyga which brought up the question. He states that it's because fanboy doens't like his name very much, and so he doesn't really use it. If you want to read things into that, it could be a statement on how he doesn't like himself. He doens't refer to either his step-dad or Kyra (goth girl) by name until he gets over his initial dislike for them, but his changing perceptions of them are reflected through the way he refers to them. This is one of the advantages of the really close first person point of view.

Another, is that as a reader we are presented with information that fanboy sees and his interpretation of it, but are still free to make our own minds up. Things are not always as fanboy sees them, and we there are some quite obvious hints about the way things really are that he manages to miss. For example, Kyra has a different car every time we see her, and while she always has an excuse, the intellegent reader starts to question them after a while - even though fanboy never does.

The disadvantage, is that sometimes things don't get as much attention as they deserve. Fanboy's best friend Cal is one that I have a lot of empathy for. He is one of the few black kids in a predominately white school, he is into comics, but he is also into sports and hangs out with the jocks. He is one of the popular kids, but the only person he is really himself with is fanboy, who of cource doesn't see the challanges that are faced by Cal only that his best friend sometimes snobs him off for the same kids that bully him. I understand why fanboy is pissed, but I feel for Cal as well, and I'd really like to know more about his motivations. We get a bit of a glimpse into his world towards the end of the book, and I do feel that I have a fairly good understanding of the character, but it would be interesting to hear more about him.

It's taken me a while to get up to "goth girl", but I don't mind too much because so does the book. It may be titled "The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl", but it's really about the adventures of fanboy, and how he is changed by his meeting with goth girl. I really didn't like Kyra at first. She was everything a bad goth stereotype should be, and i can totally understand why people think they hate goths. As fanboy, and therefore the reader, gets to learn more about Kyra, we start to see why she acts the way she does. We learn to understand that she is a pretty messed up little girl, and care more about the pain that she is in then what what a pain in the arse she is. While I'm still waiting for a book that shows goths like the happy fun people I know, I think that Kyra is still a very important character because she allows people to feel empathy for those that will go to great lengths to push them away.

This book deals with some really important themes: mostly self-confidence, friends, and following your dreams, with a liberal does of family, girls and bullies thrown in for good measure. It's one of those books that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone - but especially to geeks, to teenagers, or to those that want a better understanding of either

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Review: Judith Clarke - Night Train

Nightrain, by Judith Clarke, is one of the of the saddest and most depressing books I've ever read - but I still love itv I'm yet to find anything else that talks so openly and honestly about how hard life can really be. The book beings with the funeral of the protagonist, Luke, as told from the point of view of his two sisters: Naomi, 5, and Molly, 16. Naomi's account especially draws you emotionally in the story from the beginning.

We see that Luke is troubled from the onset, skipping school, expelled twice, failing all his subjects, Luke appears from the outside to be your stereotypical 'troubled kid' who just doesn't care about anything. From the inside we see that Luke is troubled in a different way. He's having trouble managing everyday things, and is obviously struggling from undiagnosed depression.

The action of the book only takes place over a couple of days, as Luke struggles to try and finish an assignment for the one teacher who still has faith in him, and deal with the threat of being expelled from school. The book shows not only his problems, but also how everyone around him is affected by them. Luke's sisters, his mother, his girlfriend and his english teacher all have POV chapters, and we watch them struggle to understand Luke, and deal with the impact he has on their own lives.

The book is largely about confusion and lack of communication. Luke knows that something is wrong with him, but can't express it to anyone else. Similarly, the other characters know he is troubled, but everyone is at a loss for what to do about it.

The two people who stand out particularly strongly are Naomi, his sister, and Dan, his father. Naomi is an ideal viewpoint character because we all naturally have empathy for little kids, but no-one really talks about them. People tend to forget that kids are smarter than they look, and know more than they look, so Naomi's reactions to Luke's situation is particularly powerful. Through her telling we hear about how worried she get when Lukie doesn't come home, and how she has to close all the gates on their street - or something bad will happen to him.

Dan is noticeable for his absence for most of the book. Disappointed in his son's luck of progress during his second attempt at the HSC, Dan stops talking to or about his son. This bothers not only Luke, understandably, but also Margret - who is feeling completely out of control of both her children. Dan's viewpoint is similarly absent during most of the book - it's only at the end, when we get a glimpse of how things might just turn out ok, that he gets a chance to express himself too us - and we learn that he really does care about Luke, and tries to make things right.
The book draws you in by showing you the pain and suffering off all the characters, then gives you hope towards the end that everything will turn out ok. You know that it won't because the beginning of the book told you so, but it's a statement about the power of hope that you still want it to anyway. To me, this book has always been a hopeful book, despite the sad ending, because it's a sign that things often aren't as bad as they look - and that you better make the most of the them because you never know when they will be gone.