Book review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

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In Queens of Geek, three high school seniors from Australia jet off to America for SupaCon.  Charlie is a YouTuber who got her big break in a popular indie film and has been invited to SupaCon for publicity.  She’s accompanied by her two best friends, Taylor and Jamie. Over the course of the con, the three of them find love and learn some important life lessons.

Okay, so here’s the thing. I was super excited about this book ever since I first saw that hair. (Honestly, I wish I had the confidence to pull off hair like that.) I was browsing upcoming 2017 releases on Edelweiss and I just had to have this book. I didn’t get an ARC, but I did convince my library to buy it, which I’d call a win.

Did this book live up to my expectations? Unfortunately, not really.  And I feel like a jerk for thinking it, but this book was really mediocre.

It’s important, that’s for sure. There’s a heavy focus on representation, which is awesome. Charlie is Chinese-Australian and Jamie is Latino. Charlie’s love interest is a black woman, and she’s an out and proud bisexual who is actually shown to have dated both genders. Taylor is overweight, autistic, and suffers from some serious anxiety. There are side characters of various nationalities that all have their own problems to overcome. I don’t think it’s even possible to have a more diverse book than this.

And in addition to the representation, the characters tackle some big issues. Taylor has to deal with body-shaming when she signs up for a costume contest:

“To the girl who hid in the shadows and tried to body-shame me, I’m sorry you thought that was a good use of your time and energy. I hope you find happiness within yourself. You deserve that. We all do.”

She also tackles her anxiety head-on.

My bottom lip starts to quiver, but I keep going. “I fight every day, and too many times it’s just not enough and the fear wins. I’m so fucking weak and everything is so fucking intense and sometimes I really hate it.” I gasp, covering my mouth with my hands as the tears pour out of me. I didn’t mean to say all that.

Charlie and Taylor both deal with sexism, Charlie in the way that she’s presented in the media and Taylor in dealing with society’s expectations for how a girl “should” act:

Besides, there’s no one way to be a girl, Tay. You don’t need to fit yourself into what society tells us a girl should be. Girls can be whoever they want. Whether that’s an ass-kicking, sarcastic, crime-solving FBI Agent or a funny, gorgeous, witty beauty queen–or both at the same time.“ She swings an arm around me and pulls me in.

“Are you happy the way you are? Are you comfortable? Do you feel like yourself?”

Charlie even has to defend her sexuality to her ex-boyfriend, who “doesn’t believe” in bisexuality. This guy – who happen to be her costar – doesn’t understand how she could possibly be attracted to women if she dated him. The studio pushes them to start dating again (the fans loved that their on-screen love turned into an off-screen relationship) and neither Reese or the studio want to take no for an answer. Charlie is consistently pushed to do events with Reese that cross the line of normal publicity, and when she expresses her displeasure, she’s brushed off.  Add to this the fact that Reese is asked reasonable questions about his acting and Charlie is only ever asked about her diet and exercise, and Hollywood’s double standards become very clear.

So, yes, there are a lot of issues tackled, and the representation is great, but aside from that, there isn’t really much plot. I mean, what actually happens over the course of these ~300 pages? A costume contest? A trivia session? Some fluffy romance?  I mean, not a lot.

You might have noticed a distinct lack of mention of Jamie above. He was a great character, but he existed solely as a love interest.  He never does anything for himself. Charlie and Taylor both grow as people, but Jamie’s just sort of quietly there in the background, being perfect and saying the exact right thing at the exact right time. It’s so disappointing.

Also disappointing, and this is probably just me as an adult talking here, is that we have two supposedly lasting relationships develop over the course of about three days. It’s easy to get swept away by somebody you’ve just met. Believe me, I’ve been there. When the mood is just right and you have similar interests and you think that person is just so cool, but then when you meet up with them a few weeks later, you wonder what the heck you were thinking.

I also want to mention the one thing that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief of – the fact that these teenagers are flying across the world to hang out unsupervised at a convention. Who paid for this? Charlie’s studio? How did she convince them to foot the bill for her two best friends? Or are their parents just all very rich? And speaking of the parents, they really allowed these kids to all stay in a hotel room together? I mean, my mom was pretty cool when I was growing up. My male friends could sleep over. She didn’t have any problems with me going out of town with a guy for the day. But I highly doubt that she would have let me fly to another country, unsupervised, and sleep in a hotel room with one of my male friends. Maybe parents in Australia are more relaxed about that sort of thing?

Like I said, I really do appreciate what Wilde was trying to do here, and I feel like a jerk for not loving this book. But I just didn’t. Although it’s not nearly as heavy on the representation, a book about friends at a con that I absolutely loved was Danica Stone’s All the Feels.  If Queens of Geek wasn’t your favorite but you’re into fandom culture, maybe give that one a shot.  On the other hand, you, like hundreds of others, might really love this book!

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

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