Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hungry like the Wolf


Sometimes I feel like a vampire. No, not a Twilightesque soulful, redemption-seeking hottie who only wants to do what’s right. Instead, I feel the deep hunger of one who has tasted something sweet and wants more – lots more. For me, my craving comes in the form of my obsession with my two new favorite writers, Alex Flinn and Barry Lyga. Both of these writers look deeply into the darkness in all of us without judgment or stereotyping and show how incredible human beings really are. (Take that, vampires!) Flinn tackles the very relevant topics of dating violence and abuse in Breathing Underwater by creating flesh and blood characters who make mistakes and learn from them without preaching. A masterful storyteller, she is able to capture the voice of Nick, a teenage boy who gradually discovers why he hurts the girl he loves. (If you like this book, check out Diva, the continued story of Caitlin, Nick’s ex-girlfriend.) No issue is ever black and white in an Alex Flinn novel and she shows the shades of grey with grace and understanding. In Nothing to Lose, Michael runs away to escape his stepfather – and the threat of being tried for murder hanging over him. Like a tapestry, she gradually describes the factors that effect his choices and their consequences. Nothing is ever as it appears in Fade to Black where three witnesses see Alex Crusan, an HIV-positive student, attacked. Flinn tells this story in the voice of all three witnesses to give readers the chance to open their minds to the possible truth and their own biases. Using her background as a former attorney and work with battered women, she offers a candid perspective about difficult issues that need to be discussed openly. Beastly, her most recent novel, is a modern retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story complete with a fairy-tale chat room, New York City ambiance, and true love. This is my favorite Alex Flinn novel so far; I could read it a hundred times and get something new out of it each time.

Barry Lyga’s first novel, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, taps into the outsider in each of us and makes us feel less alone. We are all searching for someone who understands us, who gets our obsessions and accepts us for who we are, which Lyga intrinsically understands. When Fanboy deals with bullies, a step-fascist and new half brother or sister, and school, he expresses himself with humor and creativity. Lyga’s unique style of writing uses a vocabulary and approach of its own that is unfailingly comic even at the most embarrassing/painful times. It is this balance of humor and tragedy that helps the reader cope with the awful realities that he describes. In Boy Toy, Lyga tells the story of Josh, who was molested by his teacher in middle school. By juxtaposing the present (senior year of high school) and the past (seventh grade), Lyga creates well-rounded characters who are flawed and human. Even Eve, the teacher, is a person, not a monster, with her own set of issues that make her who she is. Lyga does not rationalize behavior, but helps us understand it. I believe that this is an essential book to read that deals with a complicated topic with sensitivity and without sugarcoating. Lyga’s most recent book, Hero-Type, is my favorite of his novels and flips the idea of becoming a hero on its head. When Kevin Ross saves Leah Muldoon’s life, he suddenly becomes a hero to the community and his reputation instantly changes. But does one act change a dark secret that he has been hiding? The questions that Hero-Type asks are ones we must ask ourselves, and there are no easy answers. What I love most about Alex Flinn and Barry Lyga’s novels is that they push me to consider all sides before passing judgment, to question the biases I may have that make me react to situations. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt and compassion. While I wait with bated breathe to read the next Alex Flinn novel and Goth Girl Rising (due Fall 2009), I know that rereading all their novels will only give me more clarity and understanding for the human race.

But I’m still hungry.

Vid-Lit for the Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

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