Saturday, August 15, 2009

Book Review: Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd
edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

Editors Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci have brought together a stellar line-up of YA authors to create an outstanding collection of stories about the experience of growing up "geek." The stories range from poignant to humorous, and hopeful to triumphant, but all reflect authentic aspects of the geek experience. I'm more than a little bit geek, and I saw aspects of myself in more than one of these stories.

As with any anthology, there were some stories that I liked better than others. Here were a few that stood out for me:

Holly Black and Cecil Castelluci's Once You're a Jedi, You're a Jedi All the Way: a funny look at Star Trek vs. Star Wars, which actually turned out to be a lot sweeter and more innocent than I expected, given that the first narrator wakes up in bed with someone she doesn't remember.

Scott Westerfeld's Definitional Chaos: any author that can write an entertaining story with a central conflict that hinges on the concept of character alignment is a master geek in my book!

David Levithan's Quiz Bowl AntiChrist: I totally loved the protagonist, who hides his vulnerability behind a mask of sarcasm, in this story of self-discovery.

Garth Nix's The Quiet Knight: a story of a shy young LARPer who finds real courage. The main character is what really makes this story one of my favorites.

Barry Lyga's The Truth About Dino Girl: more than any of the others, Lyga captured what my high school experience was like; it wasn't dinosaurs for me, but in many ways I really identified with the protagonist of this story. And while I thought the resolution was a little harsh in some ways, it was completely a geek fantasy, which I think was the point.

Wendy Mass' The Stars at the Finish Line: Loved the interaction between the two main characters in this one. I haven't read anything else by Wendy Mass, but this story makes me want to.

Most of the other stories were also good; there were a couple that I didn't care for, but I think that's more a matter of personal preference.

Sara Zarr's story was missing from my ARC; I wish I could have read it.

In between the stories were various one-page comics and geek jokes; many of them were also missing from my ARC, and of the ones that were included, for the most part I didn't enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the stories.

I would recommend this book for mature teens and adults. Many of the stories depict risky behaviors, including underage binge drinking, lying to your parents, meeting people from the Internet, and underage sex (in one case, by an 8th grader!) I know that many teens (and even tweens) participate in these activities, and in general I do think it's important for YA fiction to reflect an authentic teen experience. However, I think what bothers me about it in this book is that so much emphasis is placed on the personalities and geek nature of the writers. While the stories are fictional and not autobiographical (as far as I know), I think that the emphasis on the writers as geeks makes it seem like the writers are condoning and even encouraging these behaviors.

Disclaimers: I received an Advance Reading Copy from the publisher to facilitate reviewing the book. I also attended a party hosted by the publisher at BEA to introduce the book. Neither of these things influenced my review.


Carrie Harris said...

That's an interesting point about the writers condoning the behaviors in the stories. I didn't get that on my first read, but it's given me something to think about. Initially, I read it as a book for geeks, by geeks, and that was just fine by me.

Wow. That was a roundabout comment, wasn't it?

Unknown said...

It's a fine line, and I wasn't sure if I should mention it or not. Certainly there's nothing here that doesn't appear in other YA fiction. It just hit me differently than it does in other books. I was particularly bothered by the stories about young teens setting off on their own to meet people from the Internet, which is incredibly risky.

Anonymous said...

I get what you're saying about juxtaposing each writer's geek cred with his/her story. I would wager that some of the behaviors that appear in those stories do indeed reflect the writers' own experience. I think it's what makes the stories feel unusually honest.

We've all done dumb and/or risky things as young people. Lots of times those stories are our best stories. Do we decide to respect our young people enough to tell them the story and leave out the lecture? Or do we hedge our bets and drop in a little "don't try this at home" disclaimer. Or do we tell those stories only to our grownup friends?

I don't know. My solution is to thoroughly size up a kid before handing him/her Geektastic. And to hand Geektastic to ALLL my grownup friends!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your honest review. I am a mother of a 10-year-old girl who is reading at high school level. She has to choose books form the YA section now and I find it hard to locate honest reviews on books. I don't have the time to sit down and read a novel before she does. Reviews like this really help me as a parent. Thank you!

Unknown said...

You're welcome, anon4:17. I had the same problem when my son was younger, so I'm sympathetic to it and try to give enough information to be helpful in that respect.