Barry Lyga–The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

A few months ago, I picked this book up and tried to read it immediately after reading “Boy Toy.” I’d fallen in love with Lyga’s writing, and couldn’t wait to experience another of his books.

I barely finished the first chapter before putting it down and sighing with disappointment. The writing was just as solid, but Fanboy reminded me of the whiny, entitled, “I am what my parents buy me!” teen suburbanites of my high school days. Did I want to re-experience them? Not really. Thanks, Barry Lyga, but no thanks.

Fast forward to last month. I was cruising the shelves for books to read, and I stumbled upon “Fanboy” again. It occurred to me that I should give the book another chance, and that maybe I was ready to forgive it for not being “Boy Toy.” I checked it out, took it home, and read it all the way through.

I haven’t decided whether I’m glad that I did. Fanboy is caustic, self-centered, and painfully awkward. Through first-person narration, Lyga does a great job of putting us in Fanboy’s shoes, but man, they are not a pleasure to wear. The blistering descriptions of Fanboy’s mother and stepfather might delight a teen audience, but as an adult reader, it was just painful. Eventually, Fanboy does mature and sees them as people and not two-dimensional caricatures, but it’s a long hard road for narrator and reader alike.

Throughout the book, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading “High Fidelity” for graphic novel fans. Sure, Lyga’s skewering the teenage years, not the thirties, but the feel was similar: a committed fan of an under-appreciated art form puts up barrier after snarky barrier to prevent himself from forming any meaningful attachments to those around him, because he’s been hurt, and he won’t go through that again. “Fanboy” is a well-crafted example of this genre, but it’s not a genre that I find compelling.

While I can’t say that I enjoy the “angel-of-a-girl gets troubled-mope-of-a-boy to break eye contact with his belly button” trope in fiction, this book taught me that it’s not any easier to read about a troubled girl helping a troubled boy. Kyra, alias Goth Girl, makes Fanboy look like a social butterfly. She shares his anger, his disgust for bullies, his love of graphic novels, and his utter cynicism, but she has problems that he and the reader don’t discover until the end of the book. Once it becomes clear how disturbed she is, the book ends. This abruptness would be more of a problem if “Goth Girl Rising” didn’t exist.

The book wasn’t all bad. The writing, as mentioned, is excellent, and I believe that Lyga intended for Fanboy’s point of view to be as vitriolic as it is. First loves and lusts are given their due, and they carry the intensity and confusion appropriate to them. Also, I appreciate that Lyga didn’t shy away from describing the difficulties of being black in mostly-white suburbia. Frankly, I would rather have read a book with Fanboy’s best friend Cal as the main character: he was far more relatable and easy to care about than the prickly Fanboy, and I think that his struggle to maintain his “cool” social status would resonate with many teens.

Hand it to: alienated suburban teens, graphic novel fans, teen writers, fans of Nick Hornby novels and film adaptations of them.

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