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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