by Barry Lyga
Picture this. I’m at a horse show. Watching my equestrian girlfriend kick ass. Well, not literal ass, but kick ass at riding horses. While I’m cheering, whooping, etcetera, my phone is a-buzz in my pocket. I hit ignore. It continues. I hit ignore again. More vibrations. Frustration.
After the results are announced (SPOILERS: she kicked ass), I checked out my phone. Voicemails aplenty. My friend Caitlin was at a YA convention, and she met one of my favorite authors, Barry Lyga. She’d been calling me so that I could talk to him while he was signing books. Whoops.
I ended up meeting the guy later, and this time I not only got a chance to talk to him, but I got something free out of it. Yup. Free stuff. Can’t beat it. Picture this. New York Comic-Con. I’m walking. Barry Lyga is walking. Our paths cross. Music swells. Only, not really. I go, “Barry Lyga.” He thinks, “Who the hell-?” I introduce myself. He’s off to be interviewed by a dude, so the conversation is quick, but hey, I walked away with the goods.
An advanced reader copy of his new book, “Archvillain.” Gotta love it.
I just finished it, and I enjoyed it. It’s a big departure from Lyga’s usual work in the YA field. This book is a Middle Grade (ages 9-12) superhero (villain?) adventure. Think Dr. Horrible meets Hey Arnold, with less moral ambiguity and no singing. The protagonist is… well, as you’d expect from a novel that follows the “villain,” kind of a jerk. He’s got a superiority complex the size of Metropolis and he treats his parents like dirt. To avoid making him a totally unlikable character, though, Lyga gives the readers little glimpses at Kyle’s soft side through his relationships with the two people (well… things) he tolerates: His rabbit Lefty and his friend/obvious crush, Mairi. Also, young readers will love Kyle’s penchant for pulling pranks on oblivious adults, but I found it to be a bit of a retread. Pranking is a major part of Lyga’s earlier novel, “Hero Type,” so it felt weird to have pranks as such an integral part of this book as well. Even Kyle’s reasons for pulling these tricks (showing people that they’re foolish) is reminiscent of the motives of the Fools from “Hero Type.”
While I mostly liked “Archvillain,” a major problem I had with it was the repetition and the sudden, somewhat dues ex machina-ey bursts of memory. Kyle forgets all about his first “encounter” with Mike and then, when it’s convenient, suddenly remembers not only seeing him down to the last detail. Then, while his dad is talking about a camera, Kyle suddenly remembers a pants prank (best kind of prank, if you ask me) that he pulled in the third grade. Kyle is supposed to be a calculating—albeit somewhat, well, bumbling—genius. Yes, a bumbling genius. It happens. There are a few times in the book where I wondered why Kyle was being so slow on the uptake, which made the moments where his intelligence was overtly obvious a bit incongruous with the rest of the narrative.
On the plus said, it reminded me of Nicktoons, back in the pre-Spongebob days where Nicktoons were actually… you know, good. It’s set in a somewhat simplified world, where the mass public operates as one unit. Other than Kyle, the entire school… town… and world accepts Mike without question as a hero. A force of good. The government runs experiments on him, but it’s all voluntary. Nothing that would hurt him. It makes for an interesting, sort of hyperreality where Kyle stands utterly alone, a genius opposing a world full of skeptical albeit well-meaning simpletons.
The book doesn’t do for Middle Grade Lit what Lyga’s previous efforts have done for YA, but I’m not sure that it aspires to. While “The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl” and “Boy Toy” both speak for the culture of being different in high school in a way that no other YA books have thus far, “Archvillain” is simply a fun story. Kyle Camden isn’t exactly relatable and it’s often hard to sympathize with him, but reading about his schemes and failures is enjoyable. Because hey, there’s nothing tastier than a healthy dose of schadenfreude, and this book offers it up in generous helpings.
I definitely recommend “Archvillain” to any 9-12 year old kids looking for an entertaining read, and I also encourage fans of Lyga’s YA lit to check this out.
3 ½ out of 5 squishies.
Click here to purchase "Archvillain."
Click here to read more about Barry Lyga.