Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Review: Goth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga

Found via: NYC Teen Author Fest

I first heard about this title back in March, when Barry Lyga read bits and pieces of the beginning of the book at the NYC Teen Author Fest. I have half a dozen other books that need to be reviewed, but Goth Girl Rising is jumping to the head of the line because it is awesome.

Goth Girl Rising is the sequel to The Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl, picking up Kyra's story about six months after the end of that book. Kyra has been in a mental hospital for the last six months, covering the entire summer and the beginning of the next school year. It's now November and Kyra is struggling to get back to her old life.

Kyra's top problem is she feels like she was abandoned while she was in the hospital. Her two best friends claim they sent her TONS of e-mails over the summer, but Kyra didn't receive one. But most hurtful is that Fanboy himself seemed to forget about her - no e-mails, no calls, no texts.

Kyra returns to a school where the social hierarchy appears to have been turned upside down while she was away. When she left, Fanboy was easily manipulated, lonely little geek, harboring secret fantasies about a senior girl and translating those into his epic comic book Schemata. Now Fanboy is the toast of the school, after doing some editing on Schemata and publishing it in monthly installments in the school's literary magazine. The way Kyra sees it, first Fanboy forgot her, then he went and got all popular by sharing his masterpiece with the plebes; now Kyra wants revenge on him.

Life isn't any easier at home for Kyra, where she and her dad continue to butt heads over pretty much everything, from Kyra's attitude at school to the way she dresses. Like most 16 year old girls, Kyra is changing and trying to find her place in the world, with her history, though, she just feels she has it harder than anyone else.

The main reason I loved, loved, LOVED this book and tore through it in one day is that in so many ways Kyra is exactly like I was in high school. A lot of the big things are different, sure - my mom didn't die, I never tried to kill myself, when someone hurt me I didn't set out to destroy his life, and my boobs were nowhere near a D cup (though I still disliked their existence) - but so many of Kyra's smaller moments were just like how I was in high school it was a little scary. Kyra's feminism and mine had a lot in common at that stage - lots of anger, convinced that all guys were stupid and out only for sex. Both of those are still mostly true, but my views are a bit more refined by now. I also loved the moment when Kyra is experimenting with her look and, just to try something different, undoes a few buttons on her shirt to show some cleavage and rolls up the waistband of her skirt to make it a little sexier. Despite how much she hates women who use their appearance to gain control, Kyra recognizes that she, too, could pull off the look - and she might even kind of like it! Kyra spends a lot of time trying to be comfortable in her own skin, which is something I think we can all relate to.

I do think the most exciting part, however, was Kyra's explicit musings on feminism. I thought about this a lot last year with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. It's not so uncommon anymore to read YA books with feminist themes, but how often do characters explicitly identify as feminist? During the spring's teen author fest, I went out of my way to make sure to thank E. Lockhart for making that a positive part of Frankie's character. Since then, I can't recall too many other characters that expressly say "I'm a feminist." Does anyone out there know of any others?

If you haven't read The Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, you need to go out and find yourself a copy immediately - this really isn't a sequel that works well without knowing what went on in the first book. After you read that, Goth Girl Rising should definitely be next on your list.


Tia said...

I hadn't heard of this series and didn't initially think it was something I'd be interested in, but I was really drawn into your discussion of the book's overt feminism. I'd been thinking a lot about what makes a book feminist when I was considering joining the "Women Unbound" challenge, which asked participants to read Women's Studies themed books. I love a strong female protagonist, but I don't think that's enough to qualify the book as feminist, and many young people don't associate feminism with anything beyond "strong woman." I can't think of any other YA books that expressly address it although Cashore's "Graceling" perhaps came closest for me.

Angela Craft said...

Hi Tia!

You're right that "strong woman" doesn't automatically mean feminist - did you see Justine Larbalestier's post about the blank page heroine? She notes in the comments that a generically strong character can be just as boring as the weak and simpering type. I would argue that while not all strong women are feminist characters, all feminist characters are strong women.

A lot of science fiction and fantasy books lean towards being feminist texts. Graceling and its sequel Fire definitely have feminist elements, especially when it comes to the main characters attitudes about marriage and babies. I think we probably see more feminist-style (if not outright feminist) stories in SF/F because they are inherently set in a world unlike our own which probably makes it easier for the world in general to swallow stronger-than-average women.

Tia said...

I did read Justine's post, which really resonated for me. When I read it, I'd just finished Bray's "Going Bovine." I really loved the book, but the only female character was there solely to help the male protagonist achieve his fantasies, and that started to ruin the book for me.

I'd probably agree about the increased prevalence of feminist-type messages in science fiction/fantasy YA. I don't read a ton of YA (although I've been reading more recently), but I do tend to stick to those genres of YA when I do read it. As you mentioned, most seem to have some attempt at feminism, but you probably would see even less mention in a book with a typical high school setting (since it's often assumed our real society is more or less equal).

Angela Craft said...

You know, I hadn't even thought about that in "Going Bovine." Shame on me. I think I was distracted by what a head trip that novel was. But you're right; it's extremely frustrating that in the entire road trip, women were rarely encountered and when they were they were in peripherary positions. The happiness cult couldn't have been run by a woman (haha, I think an Oprah-style cult leader would have been entirely appropriate!)? Dr. X couldn't have been a woman?

When it comes to developing feminist characters, I imagine there would also be some difficulty in inserting it seamlessly into the narrative. How do you approach identifying as a feminist without coming across as proselytizing? In Goth Girl, Kyra spends a lot of time in her head and it's a very confessional novel, so it makes sense that we're privy to her rants on the objectification of women. In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, we know Frankie is a precocious young woman who for the first time is hanging out with the boys - who treat her markedly different because she is a girl dating a popular senior, so again her feminist moments are integral to the plot.

Sverige said...

PS- While I did enjoy this book very much, I would not recommend it to readers under the age of 16. I have no doubt that there are children younger than 16 that could handle some of the content, but 16+ is just my person opinion/recommendation

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