What do you do if you're a fourteen-year-old Geek, and a Beautiful Girl has appeared in the midst of your geeky world? And she seems to like you...
For Archie, the natural reaction would be to duck and cover ... run for the hills ... buy a new model elf... Anything but risk stepping into the Real World.
But even Geeks have to put their heads above the parapet at some point.
With his mum barely able to contain her excitement that her son is about to join the human race, and his step-father, Tony the Tosser, offering crass advice, it's time for Archie to embark on a daring Quest to win the Beautiful Girl's heart and shake off his Geekhood for good...
There has been quite a lot of buzz about Geekhood on Twitter recently, and as someone who has always had some geeky tendencies I thought it would be right up my street. Unfortunately I was to be disappointed. I can't tell you how much I wanted to like this book - in some ways Archie, the main character, reminded me a lot of my teenage self.
Geekhood tells the story of Archie, a fourteen-year-old boy whose passion in life is playing Role Playing Games with his small group of mates: Matt, Beggsy and Ravi. He buys the miniature figures from The Hovel (a place much like Games Workshop), spends hours painting them perfectly, and then takes the role of Dungeon Master whenever the group convene for the Game. However, away from his geeky hobbies Archie's lot is not a particularly happy one. His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother and her partner, Tony, who Archie refers to (privately of course) as 'the tosser'.
After the brief introduction to Archie's family situation and love of RPGs, the story proper begins with Archie meeting beautiful goth girl Sarah at The Hovel, and instantly falling in love with her. What follows is a funny, often cringe-inducing, but also occasionally heartwarming account of Archie's attempts to woo said girl. Sadly, it was the way that they met that was one of the things that infuriated me the most in the book (see 'not so good' section below).
I am already conscious of this sounding like a negative review and on the whole it shouldn't be as I did enjoy reading Geekhood, however I just don't think it is nearly as good as the buzz around Twitter and the blogosphere would suggest. With this in mind I am going to structure my review slightly differently from usual as I want to make sure I get the positives across first, as I would hate to turn people away from reading this book.
This book is very, very funny. There were many points where I was laughing out loud, and considering I was reading it on the train to and then later from London I was getting a few funny looks from my fellow passengers. Andy Robb utilises a great device in his writing that is referred to as Archie's Interior Monologue or IM. This is the little voice that constantly whispers in his mind, whetehr it be delivering a string of insults to Tony, or telling him he has next to no chance with Sarah. Meanwhile on the exteriors, where Tony is concerned at least, he has perfected the art of seeming to be happy and laid back. Unfortunately he is not so skilled at this when it comes to Sarah, when like most teenage geeky boys he becomes more of a gibbering wreck. There were so many moments like this that I could easily relate to based on my own teenage years, and this had me laughing even more.
I also loved Archie's character in general. I am guessing that there is a lot of Andy Robb's teenage experiences in his protagonist, and this makes him an all the more believable character that many teens, both boys and girls, will be able to relate to. The situations he faces, and the troubles he makes for himself through his own naivety and romantic ineptitude will strike a chord with less-confident teens across the nation, and in doing so may even work as a kind of self-help 'how not to do it' manual.
And now the not so good
I mentioned that Archie's initial meeting with Sarah irritated me, and even now, writing this review, it is still winding me up. Basically, Archie goes along to The Hovel, where they are holding one of their occasional Battle-Fests. This is the day when all the gamers in the area descend on the store with their prize models, for awards, painting workshops, and war games. It's described as being overflowing with Geeks (not sure why Andy Robb insists on capitalising that word). As the event kicks off, Archie and his mates spilt up and head for different sections, with Archie heading for the painting workshop and then on to study some of the new model releases. As he is doing so, the noise level in the store drops and he feels a tap on his shoulder. He turns to meet Sarah for the first time. And this is where it got annoying for me. Sarah asks what the place is, as she seems to have no idea that it is a games shop. Now I read a hell of a lot of escapist fiction, and so I am a master at suspending disbelief, but in this case I simply could not. Firstly, with the shop so full why has Sarah ventured in to ask this question when there would have been more than enough people to ask at the entrance, and secondly why did she ask Archie, whose attention she had to pull away from the models by tapping him on the shoulder. The whole boy meeting girl thing which sets up the rest of the story was just far too contrived for my liking, and it was something I couldn't let go of (and still can't).
I mentioned above about how much I loved Archie's character, and how well developed he was by Andy Robb. Sadly, the same cannot be said for his small group of friends, who to me seemed like nothing more than bit parts in the story. I would have loved to find out more about them, but too much time is devoted to Sarah (who I just could not being myself to like at all). I appreciate that this is Archie's story, told though his eyes and as such we focus on the object of his obsession, but I felt that his friends were done a great disservice.
My final moan about the book is not one that bothered me, but may bother teen readers. The book is full of references to geek culture, many of which drew a knowing smile from my lips. However, I think too many of them were based on Andy Robb's interests as a teen, such as references to Star Trek: The Next Generation and the original Star Wars trilogy. Things have moved on since then, and I think references to things like scenes where Worf has to register surprise will be lost on the majority of today's teens. It says something to me that most of the buzz I have picked up online has been from adult readers, who use the book as a geeky nostalgia trip. Interestingly, I have also noticed that much of the buzz comes from female bloggers, and now having read the book myself I would question whether this is the kind of book that would hold the attention of geeky boys enough to drag them away from their science fiction or epic fantasy books, or their gaming tables. Perhaps the many references to the world of RPGs may do just that. Not having ever played an RPG it is not an area I feel qualified to comment on. However, what I can say with some degree of experience is that the geeky boys at school, who I obviously spend a lot of time talking to, would probably not enjoy this book - they are simply too geeky for coming of age stories (which I might add, are far more popular with the girls, even if they are aimed at boys).
Looking back at this review I see that the negatives seem to outweigh the positives, but I think that is mainly down to my poor way of explaining my thoughts. If you are a teen boy I would love to hear your comments on it. I do however feel that its fans will be mainly girls and adult geeks who fancy a laugh out loud trip down memory lane.
Geekhood is published by Stripes and my thanks go to them for sending me a copy to review.