The brainy outcast known as 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.
But Fanboy has a secret: a graphic novel he’s been working on without telling anyone about it, 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 the bullies that make it all hell for him.
Just when he thinks he’s doomed to be alone, Fanboy meets Kyra, a.k.a. Goth Girl, an outrageous, cynical girl who shares Fanboy’s 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.
But Kyra has secrets, too. And they could lead Fanboy to his dreams…or down a path into his own darkness.
The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, by Barry Lyga 8.0
I picked up ‘Fanboy and Goth Girl’ at my local library’s bookstore for a buck and a half. I had never heard of it, but I was in full-fledged goth resurgence and felt the need to (re)connect with anything even remotely associated with the culture. Based on the plaudits on the back and the kitschy cover, I thought it would be worth the gamble. The fact that I had the intention of including some horror-related reads during the month of October, for my annual Horrorfest, certainly played a part in the matter.
I tackled it very soon thereafter, and even pre-emptively requested its sequel from the library for good measure; I didn’t know if I would have time to read the whole book before the deadline I set myself, but I wanted to put the odds in my favour. I read much more slowly when there’s actual text than when it’s all picture. Not sure why. I read with my fingers real good, though, and I rarely move my lips while doing so, so I managed to get through it with ample time. Ample time to get to the sequel, actually…
Because, lo and behold, even though it’s teen fiction, I was totally taken by the tale of Fanboy and his encounters with Goth Girl: although I can’t fully put myself in his skin, I could relate to the teen angst that Fanboy (a.k.a. Donnie) felt and even understood Goth Girl (a.k.a. Kyra)’s personality. I could see how he would think the way that he did, come to the conclusions that he did, acted the way that he did, and understood the perspective he had on the world.
I was definitely more of a Fanboy than a Goth Girl at that age. And I’m still not a Goth Girl. Mostly I’m not a girl. So I guess that sort of makes me a Fangothboy. Sort of.
Anyway, our story revolves around Fanboy, an angsty comic book buff who is developing his own graphic novel, Schemata. He feels out of sorts at home since his parents’ divorce has moved him away from his dad (and friends) and in with his mom’s new beau (a.k.a. The Step-fascist) . He also doesn’t fit in at school, being the nerd that many of the jocks pick on. His only comfort is his ambition, and the soothing touch of the bullet he keeps in his pocket.
He’s into girls, but he can’t approach them, so it befalls upon Goth Girl to reach out. After seeing him get pummeled repeatedly during gym class, she emails him to find out why he bears the brunt. From then on a friendship develops. A slightly conflicted friendship, because Lord knows hormones and emotions mix in weird ways – especially in those early years. Goth Girl would become his second friend, and possibly his best – even if they get into arguments all the time.
‘The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl’ is told from Fanboy’s perspective; for the whole of the book we live inside his head, privy to his thoughts, concerns, hopes, fears. It was an easy read for me because I could remember how confused I was about girls, the abstract daydreams of success that I had, my longing for escape from the present, feeling misunderstood, …etc. I suspect that Barry Lyga also understood this all too well, because he tells it like it is.
One thing I really enjoyed was how Fanboy processed his interactions with his friends and family. With Cal, despite his frustration, he accepted that he would be a part-time friend, when no one was looking. With his mom, he had seen it all before and could predict most of her moves ahead of time. With the Step-fascist, he just tried to ignore him and get out of his way. As for Kyra, he really didn’t know what to make of her, and his limited understanding affected him greatly.
It all felt fully-fleshed, real, lived in, even. Ryga was culling from his own life, certainly, but how much was fact, how much fiction?
Even though the events are mundane, uneventful, even, I got how much they mattered to Fanboy, how significant everything was in his world. From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem meaningless, but if you live it it becomes everything you have. Ryga got that. So I like that he didn’t give us the clichéd Hollywood ending; he made it feel like real life often does: open-ended, uncertain – a non-conclusion that leaves readers and the book’s protagonist with more questions than answers.
I would recommend ‘The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl to fans of ‘The Breakfast Club’. Imagine a story focusing on Brian and Allison and you get the gist of what’s in store. If the idea intrigues you or, even better yet, speaks to you, then you would really get a kick out of this book. I most certainly did. I may no longer be a teenager, but I remember what it was like. Ryga took me back many years to a time that was an emotional minefield rife with possibilities.
Even though I can’t do it all over again, it was fun reliving those years in this fashion. From a safe distance. And with a humourous perspective that would certainly have escaped me at the time.