Sometimes we review things because they’re right up in our niche and we know most of you are going to be looking at them anyway, so you might as well listen to what we have to say about them. Sometimes we review things because they certainly look like they’re right up in our niche, but we want someone we know to check them out first and tell us if the water is fine. That someone, naturally, usually, winds up being us. Which brings me to Geek Girls Unite, a book by Leslie Simon that came out yesterday from HarperCollins.
Ladies and gentleladies, the water is fine. In fact, it’s just the way you like it, or would have liked it when you were a young lonely girl geekling who thought she’d never find anyone else like her except on anonymous forums.
In my opinion that’s the ideal audience for Geek Girls Unite, the teenage geek girl you know who is struggling with being considered weird for having her interests. I’m going to explain the content and structure of GGU now, and make sure you stay for the whole thing. Superficially, the book is separated into seven sections, six for six different kinds of common geek girl factions and a seventh for a host of miscellaneous ones. Each section begins with a multiple choice quiz a la teen magazines for the reader to test if they really belong to that faction.
No, don’t go away, just listen. Every time I explained this to someone who asked about the book they blanched. But look at some of these questions: “What is the Honor system in World of Warcraft?” (Fangirl Geek) “Which of these serial killers have been linked to The Catcher in the Rye?” (Literary Geek) “Which self-taught female photographer took the album cover for Elliott Smith’s Figure 8?” (Music Geek) “Who played the female lead in The Girlie Show‘s unaired pilot?” (Comedy Geek)
GGU‘s quizzes do not mess around, and each chapter of the book is full of similarly informative sections that give a comprehensive history of the important roles played by women in the chapter’s particular focus, from Dorothy Parker to Mary Shelly to Alice Guy-Blaché, the first woman to open her own film production studio. Each chapter also focuses on a bucketful of contemporary role-models for girl geeks to follow with excitement, from Bonnie Burton to Sofia Coppola to Amy Sedaris, as well as loads of fictional characters to relate to, lists of books and music and websites to follow, and plenty of other confirmation that there are other women out there that are like them, and there have been for a very long time.
Even I will be pilfering these lists for things to read and listen and browse, after finding myself learning quite a bit while reading. For example, I am deeply embarrassed to admit, I didn’t know that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, was a woman until I read Geek Girls Unite.
So I can confidently say that I would have devoured this book when I was in middle school or high school; the stage in my development where I still thought of myself as a “geek wannabe” because I was into things that only boys liked. And I can recommend that you get this for any teenage geek girl you know who may be struggling with the same identity issues, unless…
Unless she is (or you suspect she is) struggling with sexual identity issues as well.
Each chapter of Geek Girls Unite contains a section at the end that outlines the kind of guy that a geek girl of the chapter’s subject might go for and be happy with. Like the quizzes, the execution makes these sections better than they sound in theory. In addition to simple descriptions of dudes, they approach subtle stuff like how to recognize the guys who just like your interests, and not you; and how to tell if a guy is pretending to be into your interests just to get in your pants. However, it’s all about girls looking for guys, and guys looking for girls. There’s also a smattering of subtly assumed heterosexuality outside of the relationship-specific sections. Instead of feeling embraced in a newly discovered community of women with like interests, a gay girl geek is likely to feel doubly alienated: alienated by the people around her who don’t understand her geeky interests, and alienated by this very straight presentation of the geek community (a late-book shout out to the righteous Rachel Maddow notwithstanding).
The vagaries of the YA publishing world are not inconsequential and I’ve got no idea of the path that Leslie Simon had to take to get Geek Girls Unite to print, so demonizing the book is not my intention. I was hoping for more in this particular arena, though, so I felt that it needed pointing out. Geek Girls Unite: Great for geek girls, gross for gay girls.
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