BooksForKidsBlog

Friday, October 16, 2009

Out of the Dark: Goth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga

You can't rely on other people to be your strength.

You have to be your own strength.

You can't rely on love. Love will let you down every time. Every single time.

I don't love Jecca. I don't love Fanboy.

But...

God, the buts in life will kill you absolutely every time, won't they?

I don't love. But I need.

Kyra is back home after six months in a residential mental health hospital, her diagnosis, overheard from the jaded floor nurses, DCHH--"Daddy Couldn't Handle Her." And indeed, he couldn't. Kyra's emotional state had already led to wrist-slashing in one suicide attempt, and when an anonymous call warned him that she has stolen a bullet from a friend, her dad Roger committed her to the hospital. Both of them twisted and torn by the horrific death of her mother from metastatic cancer, the two survivors cannot connect with each other at all, and as her dad falls back on rules and lectures and groundings, Kyra turns more and more toward her Goth friends and outright rebellion, sneaking out at night, stealing cars when she needs a ride, and staying in trouble at school.

But things are different when, after her time away, she tries to slip back into her place at school. Girl friends Jecca and Simone seem to care more about attention from guys than their old Goth loyalties. Simone, especially, has become little more than a black-clad school slut, and even Jecca is absorbed in her crush on the popular Brad.

And then there's Fanboy. Hurt that her friend never emailed or tried to contact her in the hospital, Kyra still longs to renew the closeness that they attained when she worked with him on his graphic novel Schemata. But the first day back at school, Kyra is shocked that he's gone over to the other side--hanging with the popular crowd, publishing his work serially in the school literary magazine, changing crucial parts with the advice of his new friend Cal, one of the jocks. Pulled between her overwhelming anger at what she sees as the ultimate rejection of everything they meant to each other and her admitted attraction to him, Kyra conceives a cruelly clever plan to "destroy" Fanboy, to web-publish something she be believes will make him a pariah at school. To do so, however, she realizes that she will have to pretend friendship to get what she needs to carry out her plot.

As the reader soon sees, Kyra's anger at Fanboy is displaced--displaced from her own irrational but deep anger with her mother for dying when she needed her most. Author Barry Lyga uses an effective device in which is revealed, in recurring and lengthening segments, the overwhelming scene in the hospital, the last time that Kyra saw her mother alive. The first such entry begins with the cryptic line...

The room The room The room is rosevomit because

Interspersed through the text this refrain appears, growing longer and more graphic, until near the climax of the novel the reader sees the real source of Kyra's blinding anger, anger against her fumbling, grieving, overwhelmed father, her all-too-human teachers, her self-absorbed friends, and most of all against her one real friend, Fanboy. The source is at its core anger at herself for failing her mother so completely at the end.

This self understanding comes when, desperate for a human connection, Kyra slips out to a late night party. Repulsed by the drunken make-out scene there, she slips outside into the icy night. Rejecting the temptation to allow herself to freeze to death, Kyra is arrested trying to steal a car to get herself home. Refusing to talk to the police and left to wait alone with nothing in her bookbag but a comic graphic novel Fanboy had given to her, she reads it and comes to an understanding of her fascination with death and yet what it means to live in an imperfect world. When her chance comes to make her one phone call, Kyra sees that she has one connection she can trust, one person who sees her for what she is, and one whose gift is showing her how to forgive herself.

But I know this: I can't be alone anymore.

I can't sit in the dark while other people fumble around in the quiet and the murk
trying to find me, trying to locate me, while I huddle in the pantry hiding....

I need to be out there.

I need to live.

Lyga's Goth Girl Rising (sequel to The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl) is an serious and absorbing novel for mature young adults, dealing as it does with the deeper issues of life itself--death, self-knowledge, responsibility to self and others, loyalty and friendship, and living in the world as it is--one that asks and gives much to the reader who has the persistence to look beneath the surface of this in-your-face main character. It's not going too far to say that this novel is about the courage it takes to accept redemption over self-annihilation.

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13 Comments:

  • I would prefer my kids not read that crap.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:42 PM  

  • I'd prefer NOBODY read that crap.

    By Anonymous Hootie, at 10:10 PM  

  • "You have to be your own strength."

    Fundamentally incorrect.

    Being "your own strength" is precisely the recipe for failure.

    There is another strength.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:15 PM  

  • Interesting plot line. I didn't notice in the plot summary the most important part of self-redemption: sacrificing what one values most to achieve a greater good. Don Ingall's The Watchers on the Mountain captures that aspect well.

    Sincerely,
    Leroy Hurt
    www.YourUnfinishedBusiness.net

    By Blogger Leroy Hurt, at 11:35 PM  

  • I've had the misfortune of being exposed, through family, to some of these goth kiddies. They're vapid losers hiding behind a thin veil of edginess to begin with. But the Schadenfreude becomes especially delicious observing them over the course of a decade or so, as their teens turn to mid-20s giving way to almost 30. They'll live in decrepit apartments the bad parts of town, never seem to finish school or get a decent paying job, be chronically broke or in debt from spending to buy strange and spooky crap to wear and decorate their place with, never seem to own or have learned how to operate a car and will need a ride anywhere beyond inner-city limits, have ambitious art projects or music ventures that never pan out, jump from relationship to relationship, and gradually turn flabby bizarre-looking weirdos replaced by younger kids at newer clubs into newer trends. (And these are just the ones who happened to avoid substance abuse, crime and suicide.)

    I've had my share of depression, angst and erratic behavior in my teens and 20s, and can emphasize with a morose view of the world. But my moods were always corralled by seriously contemplated philosophical/ideological/religious tenets, general respect for others while maintained some degree of independent self-esteem, and a belief that I can and should be a good person. Goths CHOOSE to have none of these safeguards in their lives. Concepts of evil, death, Satan, etc. are an amusing plaything to them. They care nothing about how their appearance or behavior offend people--by they everyday acquaintances or longsuffering family--except for the thrill of pissing them off.

    They're people who don't take life seriously. And soon thereafter, life stops taking them seriously.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:52 PM  

  • They are not incompatible. Remember, "Man looks at the outward things, but God looks at the heart."

    By Anonymous gus3, at 1:12 AM  

  • Notwithstanding the foregoing, I think it's good that people are trying to express the worldview of goths -- just as with any other significant minority of kids. Especially if the effort leads to insights into how kids deceive themselves, and/or can shed light for all of us, regarding people. Aka "the human condition".

    I was never a goth, and I was never really an adherent of a religious faith, but I've spent enough time with each to understand them. They tend to reflexively reject one another, generally latching onto the opposition's weakest arguments as a rationale. Though I ultimately find neither group persuasive (and recognizing the greater tradition and numbers of the faithful), they each have meaningful insights.

    Anyway, good on Mr. Lyga and his publisher for making the effort. It sounds pretty well executed.

    By Anonymous Shelby, at 2:48 AM  

  • The major thing here is that it deals with stuff that does happen in junior high and high school these days, and that it criticizes all the drunken making out and sex as wrong. It also makes it clear that sharing the "right" subculture doesn't make people automatically good friends or people you can trust; or that they'll always feel the same way you do because you shared a lot at one moment in time; and it's not bad to grow and make friends in other high school subcultures. A lot of kids play themselves for suckers because they don't learn these things in time.

    By Blogger Maureen, at 9:32 AM  

  • I dunno, but judging from this synopsis, shouldn't this be in the books not for kids blog?

    I pray my 12 year old, who seems to be growing to idolize this kookery, doesn't hear about this book.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:20 PM  

  • Keeping kids from books because they might be dark and have complicated moral aspects is only going to make the parent feel better and deprive the kid of an opportunity to read critically and learn to evaluate the values.

    Life ain't pretty, kids know this as well. If they can see the consequences of certain issues in fiction before confronting them in junior high or high school (and they most definitely will confront them there, all helicoptering parental efforts aside), they will be better equipped to deal with it.

    It's an opportunity for parents to sit down with their kid after reading a book like this and ask their opinion and discuss it. Imagine that!

    Kids are going to have access to objectionable material, whether parents like it or not. They'll get it at their friends house, they'll hear about it from other adults who think they either won't hear or won't understand. Unless they're locked up 24/7, they will see and hear things their parents won't necessarily want them to. The key is to stay involved and talk openly about the tough stuff, including literature like this. Because if the parents won't, somebody else will.

    By Blogger Crescendo, at 12:38 AM  

  • Dear Crescendo,

    I couldn't have said it better myself!

    The review makes it pretty clear that the main character's association with the school Goths is just her way of dealing with some terrible memories which she can't share with her dad. We all know kids need a group to belong to at this age. The comments above ignore the fact that the character rejects the drinking, faceless sex, and other reckless behavior that can be found among many high school groups--preppies, jocks, pops, whatever--and she does it on her own.

    Isn't this what we all want our kids to do? As you say, wouldn't we want young people to learn from vicarious experience in a well-crafted novel rather than the hard way?

    Thanks for your strong voice of reason.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:35 AM  

  • Fanboy and Gothgirl, along with Goth Girl Rising ARE books for kids, but... not young kids, or silly immature people who can't see past the title GOTH Girl to see its about a character with real depth and reason behind how she is, how she acts, and how she fits into the world that is teenagerdom.

    I read Fanboy and Gothgirl at age 14, and now Goth Girl Rising just the other day, being age 15 now. It really frustrates me to see all these crazy old loons who only see the word "goth" in the title and want to hide their kids from it. Honestly, if your kids are so fragile that they can't handle a well written, insightful book, then this isn't your only issue.
    Fanboy, in the first book is shown to have plently of issues himself, it is not only the "goth" portrayed that does. I'm no goth, I'm... I don't think I'm any one thing really, but some of the issues they deal with in the books are things real teenagers figuring REAL LIFE out, deal with.

    Reading about it is nice, it sort of shows kids who get it, who question what it all means, or why sometimes kids feel alienated by their peers and life, that they're not alone. When things are down, they don't stay that way. Sure, anyone can tell you that, but sometimes to see crap you're going through reflected in a book, only more so, reminds one that what they have really isn't so bad.

    The best part is that the characters don't stay downtrodden and alienated, they DO have friends and sure, sometimes Goth Girl is into stuff she shouldn't be, but she's dealt with a lot and is working out her life still. She's written well.. like she's a person, don't we all do that? The characters figure themselves out, and thanks a lot to each other. These are really good books that have touched me.

    Thank you Barry Lyga.

    To all the people that critize the book without so much as a glance at what it is REALLY about, what the books mean, you're missing out here.

    By Blogger nyraT54, at 8:07 PM  

  • Ill Pass on this one :(

    By Anonymous used Dump Trucks, at 10:09 AM  

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