Sunday, 2 December 2012

Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind, by Andy Robb

(1) a circus freak or sideshow performer.
(2) a strange or eccentric person.
(3) a creep or misfit.

This is my dictionary’s definition of the word ‘Geek’. It seems a bit harsh, really. Creep? I think not. That 'geek' was originally used to describe the circus ‘freak’ is familiar, but today I think the term has a much, much wider remit; one that my dictionary clearly cannot put its finger on. What is a geek, after all?

In Archie’s world - the star of Andy Robb’s Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind - being a geek means being a gawky teenager with a particular obsession in fantasy and fantasy realms such as Lord of the Rings, intricate role-playing games, and the painting of model figures to be used in the playing of said games. It represents that difficult period of trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in - and, of course, how to talk to girls.

At its heart, Geekhood is a story about figuring these things out. There’s a lot going on in Archie’s life, and he keeps most of it hidden underneath the surface. Coping mechanisms include delving into fantasy land and a slightly bitter but amusing interior monologue:

“I’ve developed a VERY LOUD interior monologue that works completely independently from from what my face and body are doing. For example, at the moment, while Tony is examining my prized goblin warrior, my face has crinkled into the approximation of a sleepy smile, while my hand scratches at my head in a pantomime of tiredness... However, at the same time that my exterior is sending all these signals of muzzy cheeriness, my Interior Monologue is saying something along the lines of: Put that bloody thing down, you Tosser! It’s not there for you to laugh at; it’s there as an expression of my need to escape this world and embrace a realm where anything is possible!” (pg. 11-12)

But then a gorgeous goth girl walks into his life - and, low and behold, talks to him. Sarah acts as a catalyst for change. In his slightly blundering but well-intentioned attempts to woo her, Archie introduces the reader to the scary and often hilarious workings of the teenage boy’s mind...

Exhibit A: The smallest glimpse of female flesh and any mention of the word ‘bra’ results in complete mental breakdown.

Exhibit B: The various meaning of the word ‘dude’, depending on its use within a sentence and the type of emphasis placed on it during pronunciation.

Exhibit C: The art of teenage conversation. “The Golden Rule of Non-Specific Conversation: You NEVER refer to the heart of the matter. I know he knows what all the clothes and aftershave are for and he knows I know that he knows what it’s for - but you NEVER refer to it.” (pg. 126)

But what is the deal with Archie’s nightmares? Will his mum’s boyfriend ever stop trying to ‘bond’ with him? And is his interior monologue getting out of hand?

Geekhood was a big hit with the teenage reading group in the Waterstones store where I work, and it fits in well with the John Green generation, steering away from the vampire/dystopia tendency of many of today’s teenage authors. Plus it’s British, and it’s original in the perspective that it doesn’t involve girls swooning over some boy with movie-star good looks. And another gold star goes to it’s bittersweet ending which, like most of the book actually, is reassuring in its basis in reality. Overall, an amusing and enjoyable read that both the male and female of the species will relate to equally well.

And the geek factor? Well, although Archie is perhaps a little more overtly geek than the average teenager, personally I think there’s a little geek in all of us, and we shouldn’t shy away from it. While some may argue that being a geek can make life more difficult, as Archie discovers, it’s much better to be true to yourself.

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