October 20, 2013

The Opposite of Geek

by Ria Voros
Scholastic Canada
978-1-4431-0484-5
224 pp.
Ages 11+
September, 2013

Don't let the pink on the book cover fool you: The Opposite of Geek is not chick lit. It's not light and comedic and romantic.  Yes, there are some light moments and some humourous t-shirts and a first love for our protagonist, sixteen-year-old Gretchen, but The Opposite of Geek is more about cliques and friendship and grief and poetry and the toils of being human and being a teen.

Three things you'll learn very quickly about Gretchen Meyers are: 1) her best friend is the brilliant Nemiah Hershey; 2) she's failing chemistry (which is disastrous considering her parents expect her to go into medicine); and 3) she loves reading and writing haiku and poetry (a passion she shares with Ms Long, a guidance counsellor at school).  When Nemiah joins the swim team and its clique, and Gretchen gets seventeen-year-old James Tarden to tutor her in chemistry, her world begins to fracture and reconfigure itself.  

James, who suffers from an embarrassing skin condition and is regularly victimized by a couple of jocks, wears his heart on his t-shirts (e.g., Geeks Rule the World) and has deep philosophical discussions with Gretchen about being a geek.
This is the problem with the social community of high school.  No one understands the value of geekdom.  How come what I love makes me a geek, but what Henry Gladstone (basketball star) loves makes him a stud? (pg. 42)
He takes her to his uncle's deli where she meets James' cousin Dean (18), and the three start hanging out together, giving Gretchen the sense of togetherness she's lost with Nemiah. Unbeknownst to James, Gretchen and Dean start dating.  But after a night of bowling and brawling, Gretchen and Dean go off to be alone and James is in a car accident, and everything becomes broken again, reconfiguring itself into a new social structure.

Gretchen's coming-of-age story is very much linked to her friendships and her ability to recognize what she really wants, and Ria Voros reflects this in the form of The Opposite of Geek's text. Initially, in prose with the occasional haiku by Gretchen or her favourite poets Bashō, Issa and Buson, Gretchen's life seems dense and stilted with infrequent breaths of lightness.  But as James and Dean become part of her life and she joins The Foodies group (cooking club) at school, Gretchen's voice is more expressive and thoughtful, emulated by the richness of the free verse text and poetry she shares with others.  

While the ending of The Opposite of Geek is not a happily-ever-after, it is fulfilling.  Gretchen begins to accept and advocate for herself, and find the courage to see the superficiality of others and reject their attitudes as anything other than meaningless. 
I'll have to break it to them that I am not,
maybe never was, whatever normal means–
there was a geek inside me all the time.
(pg. 169)
As she did in Nobody's Dog (Scholastic, 2012), which is a 2014 nominee for the Silver Birch Fiction award, Ria Voros has presented a survivor's story without the heroics or refined sugar of happy endings.  In The Opposite of Geek, the heroes are the geeks, like it or not.

2 comments:

Ria said...

Thank you for writing this thoughtful and detailed review of my book! I'm very glad you enjoyed it. I just want to point out that my name is Ria, not Nia, although now that I see them side-by-side, Nia is kind of nicer... :)

Best,
Ria Voros
www.riavoros.com
www.forkandfiction.com

Helen K said...

Sincerest apologies for my sloppiness with your first name. As a person whose last name is often spelled incorrectly, I know how frustrating it and still not want to offend. You are very gracious. I have amended my spellings appropriately (I hope).

Glad you enjoyed the review. And congrats on your nomination for Silver Birch. I hope you'll be able to attend the Festival of Trees in Ontario next May as it is quite an amazing event.

Helen