Book Review Unit 9: Geektastic

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[Cover art of Geektastic: Stories from the nerd herd]. (2009). 2009 copyright by Little, Brown and Company. Reprinted with permission.

Book Summary: This collection of stories are tied together by teens’ intense fandom—whether sci-fi TV shows or Wuthering Heights, all teens are finding themselves and their crowd through the medium of nerdy obsessions. Romance and identity are writ large in many tales as teens fight for friends to see them as something more or fight their desires to be “cool” in order to attract the attention of that special someone.

APA Reference of Book: Black, H. and Castellucci, C. (eds.). 2009. Geektastic: Stories from the nerd herd. New York, N.Y.: Little, Brown and Company.

Impressions: This book is definitely a mixed bag containing some stories which are enjoyable and others that skate dangerously close to fan service or unadulterated wish-fulfillment. The best stories hook the reader with a bit of surprise, such “Once You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi All the Way” or focus on individual relationships where nerddom is just a viewing lens such as “Quiz Bowl Antichrist.” I do feel this is a YA book written for readers in their 30s as the references to TNG, BSG, Firefly, and Buffy fans seem more relevant to Gen X than current teenagers.  The authors’ ages weigh heavily as there are no references to cult hits of todays’ teens, and little focus on comic book superhero fans or manga/anime.  Heavy focus on romance in many stories towards the beginning such as “I Never” and “One of Us” and a proliferation of female mains will probably mean this title is strangely more appealing to girls than boys, which is certainly a missed opportunity. I gathered the strong impression that I found this collection far more enjoyable than would its intended audience.

Professional Review:

This disastrous collection of stories sets out to show the depth and coolness of unpopular geeks and nerds, but instead it presents tired stereotypes in writing that fulfills an audience of authors and librarians rather than teens. There are a few standouts, like the stories by Kelly Link and Cassandra Clare, which have sympathetic characters who just happen to engage in geek activities. A few others, like those by Wendy Mass and David Levithan, show that the term “geek” extends beyond Star Trek to various academic disciplines. More than one story requires knowledge of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show that went off the air when most of this book’s target audience was ten years old. Teens who are not already entrenched in geek culture, which in most of these stories means obsession with science-fiction and fantasy worlds, will have a hard time following, much less understanding most of these stories. Even with the authors’ name recognition, this collection’s appeal is limited at best. (Short stories. 14 & up)

Geektastic: Stories from the nerd herd. 2009. [n.a]. Kirkus Reviews, 12.

Did you hear the one about the geek who grew up to write young adult fiction? Apparently that particular coming-of-age trajectory has achieved the status of a cultural meme, as Black and Castellucci demonstrate here. They have assembled nineteen of today’s most popular YA authors to tell the stories of role-playing geeks, band geeks, theater geeks, comic-book geeks, cosplay geeks, science geeks, Buffy geeks, Rocky Horror geeks, etc. Given the details included in the author bios and the fluency with [End Page 59] which the characters engage in complex dorkuments (arguments over some finer point of geek culture), it’s clear that these authors, which include M. T. Anderson, John Green, Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Scott Westerfeld, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Garth Nix, and David Levithan, among others, are speaking in their native tongue. However, for readers who don’t know the difference between, say, a LARP (Live Action Role-Playing Game) and an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) an internet connection will handy, since the authors don’t include a glossary, although interstitial comics by Black and Castellucci and illustrators Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O’Malley go some way toward mapping the geek ’verse. Though not all the stories are independently stellar, the formula of one part irony, one part justification, and two parts wish-fulfillment fantasy works pretty well across the board to highlight the important role a geeky obsession can play in getting teens through tough social and familial situations. Because of this persistent and universalizing theme, even non-geeks will find something to like here, and they may even learn to treat those weirdly dressed, oddly intense kids at the other lunch table with more respect.

Coates, K. (2009). Geektastic: Stories from the nerd herd. Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, 63(2), 59-60.

Library Uses: I would use Geektastic as a platform to practice book-talking, Each member of the bookclub would find a story they enjoyed and prepare a 30 second book talk to give to a partner or the rest of the group. Short story anothologies are particularly effective as they challenge students to hook potential readers without giving away too much of an already short plot.

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