What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this book about two comic book-loving misfits may be a good choice for comic book fans and graphic novel readers. It shows the impact of bullying and what it's like to be an outsider, and could be used by inspired parents and teachers to open up discussions on empathy, bullying, and school violence. It does include swearing, sexual references, and teenage misbehavior, including drinking, smoking, bullying, and cheating in school. One main character has attempted suicide, while the other has violent fantasies. Both main characters threaten a school administrator with false sexual accusations at different times. The story continues in Lyga's Goth Girl Rising.
What's the story?
A smart comic book geek has an unhappy life at home and is bullied at school. But an unexpected friendship with an edgy comic-loving girl brings some unexpected drama -- and perspective -- to his life.
Is it any good?
Give first-time novelist (and fanboy himself) Barry Lyga a bonus point for being original. The story gives all the signs of heading for an operatically tragic ending, and then doesn't go there. Any alert reader will be sure early on that they know exactly where this book is headed. There's mad telegraphing here -- the bullying, the loving relationship with a bullet, the stepfather (step-fascist) who keeps guns, the violent fantasies, the isolation, and lack of support. But take the points away again for having an ending that just fizzles out all of a sudden -- apparently he didn't have the courage to follow his own foreshadowing.
Give him another point for enjoyably and wittily explicating comic-geek culture -- he shows real insight into and sardonic compassion for outsider teens. But then take away two for trying to turn the protagonists' really damaging behavior into a heroic stand against blustering adults.
No question that newbie author Lyga has the writing chops and clearheaded understanding of adolescents to be a fine young adult novelist. He can write an over-the-top, cringe-worthy scene of teen humiliation with the best of them. But he will need to learn a few things about plotting -- such as how to follow his own setup, how to write an ending, and how to empower his heroes without resorting to the kind of manipulation that loses them any right to the reader's sympathy.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about Donnie's violent fantasies. Do you think they are realistic, given the bullying he endures at school? Do you see kids at school who get treated like he does?
This book has a sequel, Goth Girl Rising, told from Kyra's point of view. Are you interested enough to follow the story? Why do you think Lyga wanted to write the next installment? Why would a publisher be interested in publishing a sequel?