First, allow me to get something off my chest – I’m not much of a fan of the title. Every time I try to say or think it, I automatically utter “The Astonishing Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl”, which some of you may remember as a live action kids film starring Taylor Lautner when he was still tiny and cute instead of a shirtless, muscular werewolf. Depending on your opinion of that movie, this phenomenon could be a good or a bad thing…for me, though, it is 100% loathsome, because while I hated the Taylor Lautner movie (sorry, beautiful muscular werewolf), I think The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth girl by Barry Lyga is in contrast a very, very good book.
The novel follows the everyday perils of 15 year old “Fanboy,” whose name is never directly mentioned (his mom calls him “Donnie”), as he struggles to survive South Brook High. Constantly bullied or ignored by his peers, Fanboy is your typically intelligent, comic book loving geek. Using his love of comic books as a buffer, he manages to brush off his tormentors and dream of the day he will graduate, leave for college, and become the high powered CEO that can laugh in the face of all his abusers. Until then, he gets through each day by working on his graphic novel, Schemata, and pondering over the index known simply as The List, which contains the names of every person that will someday experience Fanboy’s overpowering revenge. At the same time, he carries a golden bullet with him at all times that acts as his security blanket; whenever he feels threatened or anxious, rubbing it gives him peace. He finds the bullet alone on his stepfather’s workbench one day – thankfully, the guns in the cabinet go untouched, but the bullet’s presence creates a palpable tension for the reader throughout the book.
After another day being beat into a pulp by a bully in gym class, Fanboy returns to his computer at home to find an instant message from an unknown source, asking, ‘Why do you let him hit you?’ From that moment on, Fanboy maintains a somewhat precarious relationship with the conflicted Kyra, or Goth girl, who always dresses entirely in black, has a mouth like a sailor, and agrees with Fanboy’s assertion that all people suck – in fact, according to her the world would be better off if an ambitious gunmen stormed in and murdered 99% of their high school’s population. Yikes.
What I love most about this book is the realism. Although Fanboy makes an effort to point out his belief in a purely black and white world, the novel itself is anything but. Lyga portrays the concepts of fitting in, bullying, divorce, change, mental illness, and friendship in a way that doesn’t revel in clear winners and losers or right and wrong. Fanboy’s stepfather – who the boy calls the “step-fascist” – appears to be completely clueless and unfeeling, but is actually just a tad bit awkward with his emotions (and I dare you to find a father figure who isn’t). The popular and charismatic athlete Cal – Fanboy’s only friend before Goth girl – has a tendency to brush off Fanboy in favor of other jocks but at the same time can be a considerate and worthy friend. Most satisfying, however, is the fact that in the end Fanboy comes to a resolution of his many problems without gratuitous and nonsensical violence. Yes, I’m sure many geeks fantasize about it, but wringing those jocks’ necks isn’t the answer, and I’m glad that Lyga handles these feelings in a responsible yet realistic manner.
Yes, Barry Lyga, you made me relive a few too many instances of high school awkwardness, but I forgive you. Your book gets a rare five stars (!) from me. And I can’t forget to mention Fanboy’s completely made up but totally epic explanation for the Great Depression – The Great Ecuadorian Turtle Blight – which is worthy of five stars in itself.
Sydnee is a freshman at Wayne State University pursuing a degree in Journalism. Her hobbies include painting and taking long afternoon naps. She is obsessed with hunky heroes, explosions, melodrama, and magic—all things that make a frequent appearance in her stories. Her blog is http://syd-dreams.blogspot.com.