Monday, 10 March 2014

Reviewed by Arianne: Geek Girl by Holly Smale.

Product details:
Publisher: Harper Collins.
Paperback, 378 pages.
Release date: February 28th 2013.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: 11+
 Source: Purchased.
Reviewed by: Arianne.

Harriet Manners knows a lot of things.

She 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. What she isn't quite so sure about is why nobody at school seems to like her very much. So when she's spotted by a top model agent, Harriet 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 the impossibly handsome supermodel Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.

As Harriet veers from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, she begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn't seem to like her any more than the real world did.

And as her old life starts to fall apart, the question is: will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?

I’ve been looking forward to reading Geek Girl for such a long time! I’ve heard so many great things about it and with such a fantastic concept, I can understand why. 

Harriet Manners is a geek (but apparently having not yet discovered the internet) she feels totally alone in her nerdiness. She’s got more facts than an encyclopedia, but ask her out to the school disco? She wouldn’t have a clue. That’s why, when she’s spotted by a top modeling agency, Harriet’s sure there’s been some sort of mistake – but there hasn’t. To the utter shock of her nasty classmates, she’s been made the new face of a leading fashion brand and is suddenly jetting off to photo shoots, appearing on TV and - oops - tripping over on international catwalks. It’s a surreal dream world for this isolated, introverted fifteen-year-old, and we’re right there with her, every blush, tumble, teeter and hesitant step of the way.

Geek Girl cleverly taps into the aspirations of two very different kinds of teenager. Any book with fashion at its core will appeal to the style-orientated teen, while Harriet’s journey of transformation – from outsider to fashion darling – will pique the interest of even the shyest of readers. The high stakes, glamourous world of fashion is all camera flashes, crazy haircuts and autographs in our heads, but Holly Smale reveals more diverse facets to an industry that can only truly be known by the people within it. Geek Girl is a less serious, more fast-paced version of The Look by Sophia Bennett, and while it may not be one of my all-time favourites, in many ways it holds its own.

There are some great characters littered throughout the book, as Smale capitalizes on the propensity for eccentric personalities in the fashion world. While I can’t say I really loved Wilbur, the flaky, giddy scout who drags Harriet into her new life, feather boas and all in tow (in particular I found it hard to believe anyone could speak like he does and get away with it – so many irritating pet names!), Yuka Ito was exactly how I wanted her to be. Cold, formidable and domineering, she’s a towering figure looming over Harriet as she steps onto the perilous tightrope of modeling. My favourite character, however, was Nick. Oh, Nick. He’s part Asian, part finely chiselled rock god. We meet him for the first time under a table at a clothing convention and the, rest as they say, is history. Sigh.

I didn’t like Harriet as much as I loved Nick – she’s the perfect protagonist on paper but in reality she’s a little whiny, spoiled even – but she still has potential. She’s young and na├»ve, but she’s smart and she’s dedicated. She looks like Lily Cole and she dresses like Cara Delevigne, but unfortunately, there were times when her characterization lost its way. I liked that she was nerdy, but she was so passive I found it hard to root for her. For someone so smart, she lacked the foresight to be her own person. She allowed herself to be labelled by others. She refused to realize that maybe she wasn’t the only person to ever felt lonely or left out. I kept waiting for her to discover her own ferocity, and to be honest, it didn’t really happen. I’ll need to see more growth from her in the sequel if I’m going to warm to her. 

The emphasis on being popular in Geek Girl is disappointing, but it’s in line with the book’s overall thematic scheme. It focuses on the development self-esteem and the story is told in a very direct, straightforward style – one that made me think this book is probably best suited to readers in the 10-13 range. Harriet is fifteen, but she and her classmates are portrayed as more immature than you would expect. This inaccuracy is particular prevalent in the case of Alexa, who is childish, mean and unfortunately, all too realistic. Everyone’s met someone like her, which makes her very, very easy to hate.

The parental presence in Harriet’s life comes in the shape of her father and not-so-evil stepmother Annabel (who I have confess won me over sooner than I thought she would). They were a little reminiscent of the type of adult characters found in children’s books – they’re a bit pantomime and don’t always behave like real adults a lot of the time – but they had Harriet’s best interests at heart. They have a subplot all to themselves in Geek Girl, and I pride myself on having guessed the outcome from the second I saw the word ‘sardines’. Toby, on the other hand, totally surprised me. He irritated me through so much of the book, but in just one scene, my perception of him was completely flipped around. I’m still Team Nick, but I have to say, after that display of self-confidence, go Toby!

In short: packed with drama, great characters and just a little bit of teenage angst, Geek Girl may not be the most complex read, but it’s a fun, light-hearted story guaranteed to make you think twice about teen bullying, teen fashion, and most of all, the importance of self-confidence and individuality. 


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