Geek Girl by Holly Smale
First Published: February 2013 (UK)
This Edition Published: February 2013
This Edition Published By: HarperCollins
Cover Design: HarperCollins Publishers
Type: Young Adult Fiction
Genre(s): Humour; Contemporary
Series: Geek Girl (Book #1)
Number of Pages: 384
Harriet Manners knows a lot of things: cats have 32 muscles in each ear, bluebirds can't see the colour blue, the average person laughs 15 times per day, peanuts are an ingredient of dynamite. But she doesn't know why nobody at school seems to like her. So when she's offered the chance to reinvent herself, Harriet grabs it. Can she transform from geek to chic?
This is your official SPOILER WARNING! There are lots and lots of spoilers!
'Geek Girl' is a book that I've been meaning to read for years. I can't even remember when I bought my copy of the book, but it's just been sat on my shelf, waiting patiently for me to pick it up. Yesterday, finally, I did. And I can honestly tell you that I'm really, really glad that I did.
This book tells the story of the super-geek Harriet Manners; a victim of bullying, a social outcast, and completely clueless when it comes to fashion. It is therefore a huge surprise to absolutely everyone when she is picked up by Infinity Models and subsequently Yuka Ito, the Creative Director of Baylee, a world-famous fashion house. She takes the chance, as the blurb says, to 'reinvent herself' because she is sick of being rejected and bullied by her peers, and wishes for her life to change. She pursues a career in fashion not because it interests her particularly, but because she thinks it will offer her things that her current life does not: acceptance, confidence, and an absence of the word 'geek' being used to insult her on a daily basis.
Immediately after starting the book, I fell in love with Holly Smale's writing. Quirky and humorous, it draws you in and entertains you even through the most serious parts of the book. The writing also makes the serious parts even more shocking and hard-hitting, as they seem so completely out-of-place in the upbeat atmosphere which Smale creates. Having finished the book, I went on Goodreads and read some of the reviews that my friends on there had posted. Some commented that the humour eventually seemed 'forced' - I personally did not, and do not, feel this way. Every time one of the jokes or puns came along, and every time Harriet got herself into an awkward situation, it seemed completely natural and flowed well; I found myself giggling at intervals and smiling at others, knowing that I would probably have done the exact same thing in her situation. That is the next thing I would like to discuss: Harriet Manners as a character.
Harriet was definitely one of the most eccentric, yet realistic, geeks I have ever witnessed in literature. Together with Toby, her faithful and dedicated stalker, she was someone that I could relate to, and someone whose perspective I really enjoyed reading. (I don't relate to Toby because he is a stalker, I would just like to clarify.) Not only is Harriet geeky to a point where I can only tip my metaphorical hat to her out of respect, she is also clumsy, a bad liar and often a bit of a lousy friend - things that I can empathise with exceptionally well. Perhaps my biggest common trait with Harriet, though, is her initial disinterest in, and cluelessness about, fashion. This has never been something that I have paid attention to, and therefore Smale's descriptions of her wearing things like a Winnie the Pooh jumper and baggy trousers comfort me - others like me EXIST somewhere! I am not alone in being so geeky and tasteless in popular clothes! (I must add, though, that my clothes are AWESOME, because they are VERY geeky.)
One particular aspect of Harriet's characterisation that I really did love beyond all of that which I've mentioned above is Smale's truthful portrayal of anxiety and panic attacks. Mental health of this sort is so often overlooked, and I found it wonderful that 'Geek Girl' showed how much of an impact these two conditions can have on a person. This gave the book a whole other level of realism, and made Harriet someone entirely human who can be related to on many levels. Despite being ordinary and then being turned magically extraordinary, as in many YA novels, she still had her 'flaws' which made her a realistic female character. Smale also challenged other social views in the book by showing that Harriet was not the typical fashion icon that young girls tend to idolise from seeing them in articles in magazines and newspapers. She is not stick-thin, she is not exceptionally pretty, she is not interested in eating healthily or, on the other end of the scale, neglecting to eat at all - she is her own person, and this book shows that being your own person is perfectly okay. My hat goes off to you, Holly Smale, it really does.
I could go on about Harriet all day, but I'm not going to. Now, I'm going to briefly mention the other characters in the tale - Nat, Alexa, Toby, Nick, Annabel, Wilbur, Yuka and Richard (Harriet's father).
- Nat as a character was someone who I can see in many of my own friends. She's supportive, caring, and not naïve - she sees through the lies, and is hurt by them when she doesn't. I feel like she, too, was a highly realistic character, but only up to a point. Her acceptance of Harriet's model career I think may be a tad unrealistic if it really was her dream to be a model since she was seven years old, especially factoring in her rejection from the exact same model agency which Harriet is accepted by, but maybe I've just never met anyone quite so nice as that yet - I hope to some day.
- Alexa is obviously your standard bully; she fits in very well to the image of my own past bullies, even using many of the same lines and insults on Harriet. Holly Smale, in her acknowledgements, thanks her own 'Alexa' for giving her the inspiration to write 'Geek Girl' - and I think that's ultimately the message behind her character. She never really mattered to Harriet, but Harriet made her matter, and that's the error. A great quote from the book, which I even took the time to tweet out on my Twitter account @thereaderrunt, is "You need to stop caring what people who don't matter think of you." This is a piece of advice that I've been told before, and this book has reminded me that I need to follow it - another reason why 'Geek Girl' is so awesome. I loved that in the end, Harriet, Nat and Toby were mature enough to apologise to her - despite the fact that the only wrong committed was by Nat, who cut off all of Alexa's ponytail in return for her bullying of Harriet. This is something which everyone must learn to do - forgive and apologise, even if you're not the one dominantly in the wrong. You can be the better person by just doing that.
- Toby was, as I assume he is supposed to be, very weird. He's the sort of person who would really annoy you, and he does, but eventually, like Harriet, you realise that he's actually just lonely and looking for someone like him to be friends with. That's what makes him relatable, even though you wouldn't think that he could be.
- Nick, though quite sparsely featured, I felt was a great addition to the novel. Some people may think that the romance element undermines the central story, but I don't - I think that it makes it even better. He was someone humorous and interesting, and also someone probably 'out of reach' for Harriet, making their romance so much more of a victory in the final chapter of the book. I'm a sucker for romance, I don't care, I loved him.
- Annabel is possibly one of the only positive portrayals of a step-mother that I've ever encountered. I loved her relationship with Harriet, and the fact that she was so supportive despite the fact that both Harriet and her father, Richard, defied her wishes and went ahead with the modelling deal. Parenting done right, right here.
- Wilbur was such a flamboyant character, and one that rather reminded me of Cinna and Effie from 'The Hunger Games'. I loved the dynamic he had with Yuka and his enthusiasm for Harriet, despite the fact that she wasn't easy to work with or his typical model. His repetition of 'with a bur, not an iam' was also very funny, and a joke that I kept laughing at even though it probably wasn't that funny.
- Yuka was the kind of scary modelling lady that I can imagine dominating the industry. Her behaviour and mannerisms were unquestionably accurate, but perhaps Smale was being generous by making her generous enough to keep letting Harriet 'off the hook'. Then again, Smale was the model for a while, and I've never been in the industry in my life. So I have no right to question this at all, I just am as a reader. I loved her character, though, as someone completely serious and dictatorial when so much of the book was humorous.
- Richard (Harriet's father) was very, very reminiscent of Desmond Edgley for me from Derek Landy's 'Skulduggery Pleasant' series. Both are goofy fathers who repeatedly embarrass their child, and who are constantly being scolded and reprimanded for their behaviour by their wives. You can't beat this kind of realistic and horrifyingly relatable humour.
If there is one thing that I should say about the book before I conclude this review, it's that at some points, I felt that it was a bit slow-paced. Broken down into short chapters as it was, overall the book didn't take long to read (I started last night and finished today), but in some places it did take quite a while to reach the point it was going for. Equally, in some places I was also left questioning the point of what had just happened, and this meant that I had to stop reading and think carefully about the book before moving on. Usually, this is the sign of a great book, and that's what I've overall taken out of the experience, though I do also think it's also sometimes the sign of elements of a story that are just written slightly weirdly, as much as to make me think 'what?'. It's a wonderful book, and one that I would highly recommend, but it's also one that I think was notably imperfect - but what debut novel ever is?
'Geek Girl' as a series was initially intended to be a trilogy, but has been extended to become a six-book series. As such, this book was rather ambiguously-ended, leaving room for Smale to do whatever she wanted with the characters in the next instalment. With regard to the said next instalment, titled 'Model Misfit', I shall be reading it very soon - maybe even this afternoon. This book has made such an impression on me that I now can't wait to read the rest of the series.
Taking everything into account, I have no qualms at all about giving this book five stars out of five, despite the small problems with pacing and ambiguity that I encountered. It's a great read for boys and girls alike, though obviously, stereotypically, boys will enjoy it less, despite the wonderful male fashion role model in the form of Nick.
Thank you for taking the time to read this review, and have a wonderful day!
Rating: 5/5 Stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★