12 January 2013

Review: Geek Girl by Holly Smale

"Harriet Manners knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a "jiffy" lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. She knows that bats always turn left when exiting a cave and that peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite. But she doesn't know why nobody at school seems to like her. So when Harriet is spotted by a top model agent, she grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her best friend's dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of impossibly handsome model Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves. Veering from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, Harriet begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn't seem to like her any more than the real world did." 

A fast-paced and funny story with an engaging and likeable heroine. There is a lot out there that comes under the broad teen girly, funny bracket but unfortunately a lot of it is vapid, badly written and not even remotely funny so it is refreshing to have something that is largely light hearted but that is well put together and has a message at it's backbone that is actually worthwhile for teen readers to hear. Also, it's just really good fun.

First Line: "My name is Harriet Manners and I am a geek."

Why I read it: I met the lovely Holly on Twitter and after a few chats about her visiting my school, and a meet up in London, I was very excited to get a NetGalley copy of Geek Girl to read before it comes out in February.

Who I would recommend it to: Girls who like Louise Rennison and the like but want their fun, and their heroines, with a bit more depth.

As the book tells us, and the title, Harriet is a geek. Harriet is an actual geek in that she is super intelligent and also unpopular at school (apart from her awesome best friend Nat who I actually adored, seriously, we all need a best friend like Nat - I'm not going to spoil what she does to Harriet's bully for you, but it's amazing. More Nat please!). The loneliness Harriet feels because of the way she doesn't fit in is not dwelt on mawkishly but I think will ring true for a lot of teenage readers who feel they have to gloss over aspects of themselves in order to fit in at school. I know that what makes some of my students special, they often hide amongst their peer groups and it makes me sad.

The action kicks off quickly at the Birmingham Clothes Show where, despite modelling being Nat's dream, it is Harriet who gets spotted by a model agent. Now the Cinderella-story, take-off-your-glasses-my-you're-beautiful (although Harriet doesn't actually wear glasses) story is obviously a well-used tale. For good reasons, as it taps into a pretty commonly held desire to be recognised as beautiful for who we are but Holly manages to put a new twist on it through Harriet being self-referential about it all - Harriet is aware of how these stories work - not that this makes it easier for her to have her longed for metamorphosis.

The book switches between a light hearted look at the modelling world and Harriet's dilemmas about how to deal with Nat's disappointment and her parent's disagreements over her modelling. The modelling scenes are somewhat exaggerated, as is the model agent/fairy godfather character, for comic effect but it works. There are enough realistic characters mixed in amongst the more cliched characters to balance between humour and not just being complete silliness. So alongside the stereotypical bitchy model you have another model who tries to help Harriet out and is just a normal girl. You also have the rather lovely Nick, a male model who gets Harriet's pulse racing. The romance is not unpredictable but it is endearing and convincing, and I'm looking forward to finding out more about Nick in later books in the series. I also found the more emotional sections very sympathetic and Harriet's mistakes in dealing with problems are very familiar.

Other things to mention briefly; Harriet's parents are refreshingly normal for teen fiction although her Dad is a little wacky for my tastes, I could very much understand Annabel's (Harriet's stepmother) frustrations with him! Annabel, however, is awesome and provided a lot of the funniest moments for me with her little comments. I think it is much harder to make someone laugh with a book than cry, and I don't often read books that make me laugh out loud. Despite some frustrations with the Georgia Nicholson series, they do make me laugh but I rarely read teen fiction that manages that. Geek Girl provided a good handful of actual laughs and plenty of smiles.

The cover is a little unsubtle but covers tend to be a bit of a weak spot for teen fiction for girls. I also found the character of Toby, Harriet's stalker, to slightly overstep the mark from cute to seriously, I think he needs help. Girls, if a boy actually camps outside your house you should probably tell someone.

I think a lot of girls will really enjoy reading this both fans of the genre and those who think they prefer something a little more serious as there is enough depth to satisfy them. The book is fun and readable with a wonderful heroine in Harriet who I'm looking forward to reading more about - I believe the second book is being edited as we speak!

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