Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dear Barry Lyga...

Recently I read two books by Barry Lyga: "The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl" and "Goth Girl Rising." They are two of the most excellent books I have ever read and I thought about writing traditional reviews of them. But this is not a book review blog. And there are many book review blogs out there that do a much better job than I ever could.

Instead, I was reading an interview with Barry on amazon.com and I came across this quote: "The sequel had to be a better story than the original, in my mind. That's the standard I hold myself to when writing a follow-up--it has to be better than the original." It was serendipitous because as much as I enjoyed "Fanboy and Goth Girl," I found "Goth Girl Rising" to be so much more engaging, fulfilling, suspenseful. That is when I decided that I needed to take a page from the book and write to Barry Lyga. The fact that I follow him on twitter and that he could potentially read this letter (unlike Neil and Kyra's letters to him) both excites and terrifies me! (Or maybe Neil has read Kyra's letters? If not, he should!)

Dear Barry,
Kyra is one of my most favorite characters. Ever. I would have loved her as a teenage girl, but as a (gulp) middle-aged woman, I can relate to Kyra and her story on so many levels.

First of all, kudos to you! As Kyra marveled in Fanboy's ability to relate to and write about a mature woman, I marveled in your ability to capture the feelings, insecurities, and idiosyncrasies of an adolescent female. Though I did not have to suffer Kyra's heart break of losing a parent, I can remember how volatile it was to live through adolescence. The highs and lows, the need to be an individual yet also belong to a group, to feel connection with others but to push those connections away--those are all feelings I dealt with--feelings that are almost universal for many adolescents both male and female.

But Kyra also made me think about my adult roles. My heart broke for her many times throughout the book. I wanted to scream at her through the pages to let her guard down, to let someone in. And at the same time, my mind's eye was seeing students that have come through my classroom and my middle school. Kyra has nothing good to say about her teachers (much like Melinda in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak) but that doesn't mean they weren't good people. For whatever reason, none of them established the connection necessary to help Kyra navigate her troubled waters. And none of them really took the time to get to know her, to understand exactly what she was going through, to find a way to show their compassion for her loss other than through looks of pity. Kyra would be a hard student to like. But as a teacher, I need to remember that every student has a back story that I don't know. Every student, whether their actions are positive or negative, is acting to fill a need. Thank you, Barry, for making me remember that. For reminding me that I need to look at every student as an individual. That every student wants to be known and understood. Every student is a soul to be nurtured, not just a vessel to fill.

But, Barry, where your story affected me the most was through the final stages of Kyra's relationship with her mom. When you finally revealed the last words Kyra spoke to her mom, I lost my breath. That is not just a euphemism; I very honestly could not breathe. The guilt and anger that Kyra had been carrying became so clear in those four words. And then I cried. I am not talking a couple of tears spilling out of my eyes. I mean a full-blown-put-the-book-down-and-sob-out-loud cry. I was crying for Kyra's mom, who wasn't able to be the kind of mother I know she wanted to be. I was crying for the whole future of what Kyra lost when she lost her mother. I cried because life is so fragile that Kyra's world could be any child's world--could be MY child's world. And so, Barry, you taught me another lesson through Kyra: I have to give my daughters the skills, knowledge, and courage to face this world without me. I have to make sure EVERY DAY that they know how much they are loved. I have to give them a support system outside myself that they can rely on in times that I can't be there for them. I am hoping that that day is long into the future, but the actions I take today will help them grow into the kind, strong women I hope they become.

Kyra will get there too, I know. Her support system just took longer to establish itself. Thank you so much for her story.

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