Geek Girl: Le Geek, C’est Chic
Geek Girl by Holly Smale
A book review by Christopher Moore
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?
Sound familiar? I’m not going to lie, it’s very similar to a lot of books that have come before it BUT it’s Harriet’s journey that keeps it interesting. She bulldozes into catastrophe after catastrophe. Smale puts her knowledge of the modelling world to good use, crafting a plot around adventure, chance, friendship and family. The story moves along at a brisk pace and trust me, twenty pages in, you won’t want to put it down.
Harriet’s voice is distinct. Her fact recital is often humorous and informative, shedding a light on just how inept Harriet is when it comes to social situations; situations that don’t require you to know how many bones make up a human skeleton. The only downside is that it makes it more difficult for the reader to relate to her.
Harriet is one of my least favourite characters. I do like her – I really do but she’s so self-conscious and naïve to the point where she becomes fictive instead of real. It stereotypes her to an extreme and it doesn’t help us to get to really know her past the catastrophes and the barrage of facts which act as a sort of distancing device. Yuka is fantastic as a sort of cold but caring fashion figure similar to Miranda Priestley (AKA Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada). Annabel is both funny and compassionate as the authoritarian stepmother. Harriet’s Dad is hilarious at the daft, head-in-the-clouds parent (“She’s… having an affair with a strawberry jam manufacturer?”). Nat is amazing as the best friend and furthermore, helps to bring out another, more vulnerable side to Harriet. Smale captures the essence of friendship perfectly in the bond between Harriet and Nat. And Wilbur (-bur, not -iam) – well, what can I say? He steals every scene he’s in. Eccentricity embodied.
Quality of Writing: 20/20
Harriet’s voice is on point and her analogies and language reflect her character and her world:
- “Nobody really metamorphoses. Cinderella is always Cinderella, just in a nicer dress. The Ugly Duckling was always a swan, just a smaller version. And I bet the tadpole and the caterpillar still feel the same, even when they’re jumping and flying, swimming and floating. Just like I am now.”
- “My impact on hearts is like an earthquake happening on the other side of the world: if I’m lucky, I can hope for a teacup tinkling in its saucer. And even then it’s a bit of a surprise and everybody talks about it afterward.”
- “I’m like a caterpillar that’s gone back to being an egg, or an unemployed Cinderella without even a hearth to scrub.”
Smale knows her environments well. She paints the scene and The Clothes Show in Birmingham as easily as makes us fall in love with Harriet. Her model background certainly lends a credibility to the subject matter and in setting up that world across – not just this book but – the series.
Comparative Literature: 9/10
It really is a fantastic debut. I picked it up, not expecting much as a 24-year-old guy but I was trying to stifle laughter on the bus to work. It’s brilliant. Could we have seen a slightly less naïve Harriet? Yes, but you can’t deny Smale her metaphorical cake. Compared to Rachel McIntyre’s debut, Me and Mr J, it’s easier to see what Harriet is lacking. We need a vulnerable moment so we can see her less as a sort of caricature and more as a real person. McIntyre’s story is a much darker one but she gives a more realistic illustration of bullying and the psychological affects it has on the individual.
Rate it or Slate it?
Rate it: A laugh-out-loud debut with a likeable protagonist.
Overall Score: 94/100
Books You May Also Like:
Me and Mr J by Rachel McIntyre – a similar story that offers less of the geek-façade and a more in-depth, funny and tragic story
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