Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

A couple things drew me to this book. In high school, I was the goth girl. I never fit in, wanted to do my own thing (which usually involved black clothing, listening to CDs and avoiding all of the high school politics). I was the smart, mysterious girl who sat in the back of class that people didn't really bother with. My husband, on the other hand, was the comic book/sci fi geek -- a fanboy. And, he still is. So reading the synopsis of this book really piqued my interest.

In regard to my thesis, this book explores several dynamics that gave me some good perspective on the complex teen relationships in my story. Fanboy (his name is Donny, but isn't really referred to by name throughout the book) is a social outcast because of his love of comic books and the whole world that revolves around them. If you don't know anything about this, believe me, it's a whole sub-culture that is considered among many to be "weird."

Because Fanboy's interests have always gone against the crowd, he's suffered from being beat up and ridiculed by his peers since he was young and has learned how to deal with it. This type of social rejection is more physical for him than my heroine, but I think that's because it's more socially acceptable to show a boy being punched every day in gym class than a girl suffering the same.

Fanboy only has one friend, Cal, who is popular and pretends not to like comic books or Fanboy when his jock friends are around. In private, they share a lot. In public, not so much. Again, Fanboy accepts this role and goes on with his own plans to just muddle along and get through high school. Then he meets Kira, goth girl.

Kira a dark and troubled, but sees in Fanboy that which no one else does. She's the only girl to ever talk to him or show any interest in the things he likes. Yes, she's into comics, too, and is thrilled to find out that Fanboy has created his own graphic novel. Kira supports and believes in him, despite her cynical and rough exterior.

These relationships gave me different perspectives on my themes. For example, Kira is depressed. She tried to commit suicide and by the end of the book, Fanboy thought she might try it again. This is a more extreme version of the type of depression Anne is going through, but showed some of the social behaviors one may have as a result. Both she and Fanboy are also good examples of those the crowd deems socially unacceptable, and how those around them treat them. This will help me as I further develop the characters around Anne in the second and third chapters, which I am working on now.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak is a story about Melinda Sordino, a troubled young girl who has just started high school. Whereas in middle school, she had friends, had a life, in high school, she's shunned -- not only by the girls who used to be her friends, but by others. See, at a party over the summer, Melinda committed a social crime among her peers. She called the cops.

What no one knew was that she had good reason. Instead of confiding in her friends or family that she was raped that night, she retreated into herself. For a whole year, Melinda essentially stopped speaking and kept her secret. As a result, she was immersed in depression, a friendship she didn't want to be in, and harassed by her rapist (one of the popular guys in school).

Overall, this was a dark story that helped me explore the more negative emotional and psychological aspects of my main character.There were quite a few specific themes that drew me to this story, though. First was the breaking of the friendship of Melinda and her best friend, Rachel. When they start school, it's like Rachel doesn't even know Melinda.

The way that Rachel acts is a lot like how I would envision my Megan character acting should Anne try to break away. She's not just passively mean, but actively so, feeding rumors about Melinda and talking about her behind her back. Rachel is also socially powerful. If Rachel didn't speak to Melinda, neither did the rest of their circle of friends. I want to infuse the fear of this type of alienation into my story.

Melinda is also suffering from depression, which is also a theme that I am exploring in my story. She doesn't want to deal with any of her emotions; she just wants to hide. Anne has this tendency and that will come out more in the scenes on the farm.

But there is a part of Melinda that does long for some social acceptance, just like Anne. She starts a friendship with a new student who she doesn't particularly like. They do things she doesn't like -- not bad things, but the friend is always pushing Melinda to join groups and conform to some type of clique standard. Melinda struggles with this and eventually her friend decides to leave the relationship. So this was a good dynamic to explore in regard to further developing my characters.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Burned by Ellen Hopkins

Burned is the story of Pattyn, a teenage girl who lives in a primarily Mormon community in Nevada. Her family adheres to a strict doctrine of Mormonism, where the men are dominant and the women subservient.

Pattyn is one of six female siblings, each named after a male military figure. Her dad is constantly battling demons. With his first wife, he had two sons. One was killed in the military and the other was gay, so he was disowned. These circumstances so aggrieved his fist wife that she killed herself, and now, remarried with so many new children, Pattyn’s dad blames himself and drowns his guilt in liquor. This leads to the continued abuse of Pattyn’s mom.

Pattyn begins to struggle with her own identity her junior year of high school. She knows what is going on at home is wrong, but when she tries to reach out for help, she finds the religious community defends her father. She’s named a liar by her bishop when she speaks about the abuse in hypotheticals, and Pattyn (unknowingly) begins to search for outlets to get away from her home life.

She meets a boy from her school one afternoon when she’s out in the woods to get away from the house, and they begin a romance that consists mainly of drinking and sexual exploration (though no actual intercourse). When her family finds out, she’s considered a problem child and is sent away to live with her aunt for the summer, supposedly as punishment.

Pattyn’s aunt Jeanette is her father’s sister. She, too, was raised in a strict, overbearing Mormon household and knows all too well the deadly lengths her brother will go to keep undesirable males away from good Mormon women. Aunt Jeanette has long since abandoned the church and lives on a ranch in Nevada, a wild and liberating environment that Pattyn comes to love and thrive in.

While at the ranch, Pattyn meets Ethan, a college student who is home for the summer to help is dad. He lives up the road and immediately captures Pattyn’s attention. All summer long, they kindle their romance which gives Pattyn strength and joy she has never known. Aware that going back home is the equivalent to being sent back to prison, Aunt Jeanette and Ethan arm Pattyn with some tools to gain some freedom from her father: a cell phone that Aunt Jeanette is paying for, pre-arranged calls with Ethan and a handgun from Ethan.

The reason for the gun? Since Pattyn’s mom became pregnant, her father has been beating her next youngest sister; the likelihood that he’ll turn on Pattyn once she’s home is great. Ethan wants her to be able to defend herself if things get too bad. Sure enough, the beatings start, and what’s worse, Pattyn finds out she’s pregnant. Desperate to get away from her family, she calls Ethan to get her and the two take off together. But her father finds out and the couple get in a horrific car crash as the flee from the police. Ethan is killed and Pattyn loses the baby.

From there, things get a little fuzzy. The book ends with Pattyn grabbing her gun and talking about killing a bunch of people and maybe herself, but it’s not clear how this really turns out.

I chose this book because the plot had similarities to my own: a teenager who is unhappy in her present circumstances goes away for the summer and is transformed due to her experiences. It was also very interesting to read because the whole story is written in verse; not so much poetry, as you have very little rhyme scheme or symbolism to translate, but each chapter is written in stanzas and verse formats. Some are even concrete poems where the shape adds to the understanding of what’s going on in that section of the story.

While I plan on keeping to a more traditional style of writing, I found Hopkins’ approach to this novel to be interesting and effective. Her storytelling whole Pattyn is on the ranch is noticeably different than when she’s at home and gave me some good insight in how to structure the farm portion of the story. I am planning on writing about the death of Anne’s grandfather, but not so tragically as Ethan’s death. Still, it was good to see how others do this in the young adult genre.