[Please note: I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange only for an honest and thorough review. This is (to the best of my ability) a spoiler-free review.]
Elle doesn’t have a lot: A despicable stepmother and wannabe-Youtube-star twin stepsisters. A job in a bright orange food truck that leaves her smelling of vegan chimichangas all day. A best friend who’s actually the evil neighbor’s weiner dog. And a favorite TV show she can geek over. Her lackluster world is turned topsy-turvy when a reboot film of her favorite show, Starfield, is announced: Her scathing blog post about casting choices gets attention; a stranger going by the name of the main character of Starfield — Prince Carmindor — starts texting her; and a cosplay competition at Excelsicon could be her ticket away from evil stepmothers, chores, and pumpkin chimichangas forever.
First, I have to be one of those reviewers (side-eyeing NYT reviewers of YA books and movies) to open with this statement: I’ve never been one to read a lot of young adult romance. When I saw that Ashley Poston’s Geekerella was being marketed categorically as “romance,” I got nervous. However, I don’t remember that last time I was so pleasantly surprised by a young adult book — of any genre! I laughed! I cried! I loved!
From start, Poston’s latest is entertaining, heart-felt, and good fun. Geekerella is a stellar combination of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and the 2004 Cinderella Story film (but this time without the hassle of flip phones). Told from the points of view of Starfield-fan girl Elle and Starfield-lead actor Darien Freeman, the narrative leads us through both characters’ emotions, misgivings, experiences, and trials. While Elle’s introduction of Darien — teen soap opera star until his latest gig — is scathing, judgmental, and minimalist, our glimpse into Darien’s world shows strained relationships, terrifyingly overzealous fans, and constant low self-esteem. Elle’s point of view, on the other hand, portrays a young woman between a rock and a hard place (not yet 18-years-old, she can’t leave her stepmother) whose love for and faith in a TV show both inspires her and is very recognizable for other fangirl readers. Plus, she has the best comebacks and makes jokes about being short, and I loved her for all of it.
Geekerella also constructs a sharp-eyed but refreshing modern rendition (reboot, even, if you will) of the classic fairy tale “Cinderella.” In our world, Poston posits, how would a “wicked stepmother” act? How would Cinderella respond? While it has been touched on previously, especially following Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 live-action Cinderella, this version of the story highlights the aspects of verbal and emotional abuse to which the archetypal character is subjected by her only remaining family. In Elle’s case, her stepmother isolates her, blames her, and ridicules her every decision. In the face of this, however, Elle perseveres with the help of Starfield and her own determination to leave when she turns 18. Since this is my favorite fairy tale — the Disney 1950 attempt notwithstanding — Poston’s take was clever, revealing, refreshing, and uplifting in its refusal to look away from these pertinent overtones in the original tale.
Similarly, Geekerella brings the phenomenon of fandom to brilliant life. As a relatively closeted fangirl, Poston’s characters and story made me want to make my geek flag fly a little higher. First, both Elle and Darien are never-ending fonts of nerdy references, trivia, and sayings; all of the above had me laughing out loud several times. Second, in this story, I found, for the first time, all the reasons I tend to gravitate toward fan fiction: It’s a retelling of a favorite story. It follows a budding relationship with all its cute ups and heart-crushing downs. Its female characters are kickass in so many ways and Darien is adorable and devoted. It features a diverse cast — POC and LGBTQ+ characters stand out — that portrays said identities not as distinct or special or noteworthy, but matter of course and a part of the character rather than shock-value. Lastly, its romance is heartwarming, all-consuming, and, dare I say it, cute. Deviating from typical romance plots, Geekerella is not run by the Fate-like wheel of All-Powerful Angst. Instead, Elle and Darien’s relationship, while it has its pitfalls and fights, epitomizes the “pleasant” and “comforting to read” characteristics of what fangirls and boys refer to as “fluff,” complete with lots of adorably “shameless flirting” (like, Darien is so bad at flirting he’s good wow). This genre form of fan fiction is, as mentioned above, often a comfort read, bordering on cathartic, as Geekerella was for me. (Yes, my skin has cleared; my crops are flourishing; and I’m ready to defeat evil aliens and wicked stepmothers, at the same time if need be.)
A story of devotion to and confidence in love, memories, stories, and ourselves, Geekerella revamps the typical “Cinderella” story with fangirling, texting, and selling vegan chimichangas. Poston’s latest young adult book gives insight into self-confidence and self-love for readers of every gender and sexuality. With adorable characters you want to carry around in your pocket and a unique level of diverse representation, Geekerella is a must-read for book, movie, and TV show geeks alike. A final endorsement: This book made my laugh and cry and flail and make ridiculous noises resembling overwhelmed squeaks. I could not put Poston’s Geekerella down!
Ashley Poston’s Geekerella was published 4 April, 2017, with Quirk Books.