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Goth Girl Rising: Or, love sure does make you do stupid things, don't it?
As I mentioned in my last review, Barry Lyga, like Ellen Wittlinger, is a YA author who I admire for his bravery in creating characters that are simultaneously sympathetic as well as being quite wrongheaded. This can be a disadvantage: I remember not liking the main character of Lyga's "The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl" for a good portion of the book, because he was so self-pitying and willing to vilify those around him in order to seem a better person. However, he did grow on me, and I was impressed that he legitimately grew as a person as the story went along.
The one thing I disliked about "TAAFBGG" was the ending, which, while feeling conclusive for the main character (the titular Fanboy), felt like it left the other character mentioned in the title in the lurch. Kyra Sellers, aka Goth Girl, had just been saved from what Fanboy thought was a suicide attempt, but her future was uncertain and unlike Fanboy, she hadn't really grown much as a person over the course of the novel. So when I discovered that Lyga had written a sequel from the point of view of Kyra, I was overjoyed.
This book is even better than TAAFBGG. Lyga manages to make Goth Girl seem more sympathetic while simultaneously making it blatantly clear how wrongheaded she can be. In fact, she even seems a little bit self-aware of that fact, but covers it up with her rage at the world around her, which is an interesting twist.
The book picks up 6 months after the end of TAAFBGG, with Kyra having been released from a mental ward after her supposed suicide attempt in the last book. Although she hated it there, her talks with a psychiatrist named Dr. Kennedy were quite fruitful, and she's made quite a bit of progress. She's even willing to forgive Fanboy for calling her dad at the end of the last book, which is what led to her getting committed in the first place. That is, until she sees Fanboy at school, and discovers he has become much more extroverted at school, even developing a sort of popularity. In addition, he's begun publishing the comic book he was working on in the last book, "Schemata," in the school literary journal.
Even though Fanboy seems overjoyed that Kyra is back, she becomes enraged at him, feeling he has forgotten and abandoned her, and the rest of the book is her plotting revenge against him. But Kyra's feelings towards Fanboy may not be as simple as she would like to believe...
Kyra is an interesting character, who seems even a little self-aware about how she seems to systematically replace feelings of depression or sadness with rage in order to feel stronger than she actually is. As well as dealing with Fanboy, the book delves into her relationships with her mother, who died when she was 14, and her father, who Kyra feels put her in a mental hospital in order to not have to deal with her. As with Fanboy, her relationships there are significantly more complicated than she would like to admit, although her relationship with her dead mother actually has the reverse problem the one with Fanboy had: she hates her mother for dying much more than she'd like to admit.
Kyra is also an iconoclast, doing what she wants to express herself in a way that is truly admirable. As the title indicates, she is a goth, but dresses in all black because she feels it represents her best, not to be fashionable. And in fact the novel deals with two dramatic changes to her self-representation, as she first shaves her head and then begins to wear all-white. This deep feeling of not caring what others feel (even though she actually does care more than she'd like to admit) helps to make her easier to like.
Structurally, the book does some interesting things, going off on weird tangents that I quite liked. Incorporated into the novel are a poem which Kyra had written about her mother's death, which grows longer and longer, revealing more about the fateful last day she saw her mother alive, as well as letters Kyra had written to Neil Gaiman, wherein she is more reflective about her life and those around her. These both help the reader understand Kyra even better, as they give a more long-view picture of her and how she feels.
Although I would not recommend reading this book before TAAFBGG, it is well worth reading. If you wanted to know more about Kyra, this is most definitely the book for you. I was legitimately shocked to learn that this book wasn't initially planned by Lyga, as it's a great capstone to the previous book. It's a great book, surrounding a great character who I loved to learn more about. Most definitely pick up this book if you've read the preceding one.