Friday, April 14, 2017

Book Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

For today, I'm reviewing Jen Wilde's Queens of Geek, the story of really two friends, Charlie and Taylor who go to a fandom convention called SupaCon and end up having adventures and falling in love in different ways. I'll get into more details below!

The plot is straight forward. It follows in alternating chapters the adventures of Charlie Liang, an upcoming vlogger and indie horror movie actress, as a VIP guest at her first big comic convention. Unfortunately for her, she had a set romance with the male lead, Reese Ryan, that has gone south and now she's roped in to doing publicity with him during the weekend. At the same time, she's exploring her mutual affection for a fellow (much more famous) Youtuber Alyssa. At the same time, her best friends, Jamie and Taylor, have come with her all the way from Australia for SupaCon as well. Taylor has autism and experiences high anxiety and panic attacks so coming to such a crowded venue so far from home is a huge adventure for her but she's motivated to meet her favorite author, Skyler Atkins, who wrote the hugely popular Queen Firestone series (think high fantasy with a bit of Harry Potter feel). However, the signing doesn't go well as Skyler is too busy to get to all the fans so Jaime and Taylor spend the book trying to find an alternate path to getting Skyler's autograph and this dynamic duo---a guy and gal who have circled each other as friends for years---may be falling in love as well.

The book has some flaws so I'll mention them before I get into the (very) good stuff. First, Ms. Wilde has great ideas for set pieces, and one of my favorite parts of the book takes place when Alyssa arranges for a private date in the arcade set up at SupaCon for her and Charlie. I loved such a cute idea of being in the secluded area with tons of classic arcade games on a perfect geek date. However, there were some parts of the book where I didn't really have a feel for what the characters looked like or for what the scenery at the con was like. It could sometimes be a bit disorienting. Second, sometimes the dialogue could be a bit on-the-nose and felt a bit like being talked at than just experiencing the story. Finally, I loved all the references but I'm thirty-three. I don't know if modern YA audiences would know much about Heathers, The Breakfast Club, or The Craft.

Though issues aside, this book really shines in so many areas that make it easily enjoyable an allows me to forgive these few points.

First, I really love all four of the main characters. Jamie could easily fall into a Mr. Nigh Guy trap, but he's a great guy who stands up for Taylor, helps her through her moments of insecurity, but always also knows how to give her space as well. Alyssa is confident, sure, but you see under her surface too and understand how she's been hurt in the past. When she described her first (disastrous) relationship and how it ended, I was in tears. But it's Charlie and Taylor you really root for.

Charlie, I find interesting, because as someone who's been active in fandoms in the past, I see from the fan side how overwhelming it must be for the celebrities. Charlie and Reese were involved in something so big that it has a shipper name of its own, Chase, and the fandom furor for that real life relationship is haunting her even six months after she found out he was cheating on her. She's upset when she's first asked to try and pretend she's made up with Reese to appease the shippers and up the publicity on the film and then scared for most of the book that her fans and their backlash and potential cruelty to Alyssa will ruin their budding relationship. I think it's an interesting look at what it might be like to be in a power couple like when everyone from Twilight fandom was speculating avidly over on-again, off-again real-life couple Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. I think the book does a great job of showing how hard it is even on the most confident person going into the meat grinder that is Hollywood and how that level of public scrutiny messes with one's sense of realty and sense of self.

Also, Charlie's bisexual. I really appreciated that as I don't see a lot of bisexuals represented in books. I read a lot of romance for adults so it's hard to wade  through books on Amazon listed in "bisexual"  but usually means m/f/m menages. It's just a nice change of pace to see a bisexual woman who's exploring her sexuality and is, frankly, also scared about her first time with a woman and if she'll be enough. Moreover, the flashback to her argument over bisexuals with her asshat macho ex Reese was great. He keeps going "I'm all for gay marriage and I'm accepting but I don't think bisexuals exist." To which Charlie retorts. "Are bisexuals unicorns? I exist." Sometimes, I feel self conscious about being bi, as if people on both sides either a) don't believe me or b) think I'm somehow sexually greedy or something else. I feel like Charlie's argument with Reese is what a lot of us go through, as if we have to be believed in by both the straight community and rest of LGBTQ+ community to be valid. 

The best character, however, is Taylor. I have one family member on the autism scale and a sibling who has panic attacks. I found the descriptions of Taylor's "flash forwards" where she gets into worry spirals very accurate as well as the descriptions of how it felt when Taylor had sensory overloads. I won't tell you if she ever gets to meet Skyler Atkins, but I will say that when she enters the pageant/trivia contest to prove she's the top Queen Firestone fan, I'm cheering for her the whole way. Ms. Wilde takes care to show how hard it is for Taylor to be up on stage for the contest and to deal with her panic, and I appreciate that Taylor works so hard through it.

Finally, I think the dialogue is really good. I love the sweetness to it. The quiet interchanges between Jamie and Taylor read like people who have been friends for years and the overall cuteness and flirting between Alyssa and Charlie is completely squee worthy. At the end of the day, this book is still a sweet romance for young adults, and both romances are so well written, so intricately woven, that you leave the book with a big smile on your face and rooting for both couples.

Correction, both weird couples because, as the book notes, geeks are in and everyone's a little bit weird. Seeing Charlie, Taylor and the gang celebrate the nerdiness that draws them together and makes them special is awesome.

I hope to read more from Ms. Wilde in the future because this book was great.

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