Donnie (a.k.a. Fanboy) is an aspiring writer of graphic novels. Aside from the times he's in his room, working on his secret graphic novel project, or talking with his one friend Cal (typically online, because Cal is usually too involved with his sports friends at school), life is fairly miserable for him. His parents are divorced, his mother remarried (to "the step-fascist") and hugely pregnant, and they've moved to a new town where Donnie hasn't mad many friends. It's hard to make friends when his mother has rules about never inviting anyone home.
Lately things have been getting worse. His mother's pathetic advice to "ignore" the bullies has resulted in enormous bruises up and down his arm from a sadistic classmate in gym class. However, it is that bullying that draws him to the attention of Kyra (a.k.a. Goth Girl). Not only do they find they share the same obsession for graphic novels (albeit they disagree on the best authors), but they become friends. She convinces him to show her his comic, and she is so impressed that she becomes determined to help him succeed in publishing it.
There is a lot happening in this book, which takes place over several weeks in Donnie's life. I am generally turned off by bully stories - I feel they have been so, so overdone, and while yes, it still happens, few authors seem to take into account the changes that have taken place in schools following Columbine and similar tragic school incidents. But this book wasn't exclusively centered around the bullying - it was just one symptom among the others that typified Fanboy's life. It was distressing to see how very alienated he is, and how little support he has. As a first person narrator, he presents the story from his point of view, and I enjoyed the fact that he kept slamming up against his assumptions and having to reassess (making the reader reassess as well).
I enjoyed the fact that everyone in the book has flaws, from Donnie's parents to himself, not to mention Kyra, and that nothing can be taken at face value - just like in real life. Donnie's assumptions prove to be wrong, time and time again, and sometimes this is a good thing (as he learns from Kyra that authority is not always to be passively accepted and obeyed, as seen in his very satisfying confrontation with the vice principal), and sometimes it's hugely disappointing to him. Fanboy won me over with his willingness to reexamine his assumptions and his courage to continue in the face of adversity.
The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga (Graphia, 2007)
Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews: "But what could turn out to be a morbid tale of a loner who goes crazy and unleashes that craziness on his classmates, instead is turned into the bittersweet journey of a young boy's first experience in love."
Bookshelves of Doom: "But my major problem? I kind of hated the narrator. I'm all for crotchety, obnoxious high school students, but he was so over-the-top. He had reason to be a pill to the people his own age, sure, but he was such a jerk at home -- it just turned me off. Maybe I'm getting old."
MotherReader: "Lyga finds a truly plausible balance between humor and credibility in terms of Fanboy’s obsession, and between harmless fantasy and destructive reaction to teen angst."
Reader Rabbit: "All in all, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, was well-done and I desperately want to read the author's other books."
Author interview here!