Curriculum Vital

    A model of teen fiction 
    Geek Girl, by Holly Smale

    Meet Harriet Manners, "15 years and three twelfths old" and ready to –

    Wait! Couldn't 'three twelfths' be simplified to one quarter? Indeed, that's the spirit! For Harriet Manners is a geek, you see, fond of palaeontology, Pythagorus and punctuality; "a polar bear in a rainforest." Her only ally in the cruel world of adolescent warfare is Nat. Nat dreams of becoming a model and has the good looks to make it happen. Harriet, meanwhile, is merely a model of maladroitness. When not putting her own foot in it, she can usually be found in the very spot where somebody else is about to put theirs.

    Her unique brand of serendipitous bad luck excels one day during a class visit to a fashion expo, and before Harriet can say 'fewer,' not 'less' she's inadvertently caught the eye of Wilbur, a modelling agent so flamboyant as to make to John Galliano look like John Proctor. Variously referring to her as "my little Box of Peaches" and "my little Pot of Bean Paste" Wilbur ushers Harriet ever closer to the spotlight of stardom. Can she go from calculator to catwalk with one bat of her newly elongated eyelashes? Won't Nat resent her forever? And what about the small matter of her stern, serious and stringent stepmother? (Oh, Harriet loves her thesaurus, by the way, just to let you know, FYI).

    Holly Smale's Geek Girl has everything you could want in an 11+ novel. There's conflict and commotion, friendship and fidelity, cattiness and – if you're lucky – a kiss. There's also a colourful cast of characters, including a despicable bully, Alexa, and a loveable if partly tragic Geek God, Toby. Harriet and Toby would likely understand the term roman-à-clef, but for the average teenager let's say in plain English that this fun and funny story is based in part on Smale's own experiences as a young fashion model blessed with a knack for committing hilarious - and expensive - faux pas.

    Brilliant though the book is, Smale's editors do pander a trifle to the adolescent audience. I don't mind 15-year-olds displaying Wilde-esque wit, but when it's time to make a point there is an oft-employed device that's made for scatter-brained teenagers:

    The punchline is shifted to a new paragraph.

    Yes, just like that.

    There it stands, all alone, yanked away from its co-clauses.

    (Lonely clause sniffs, dabs at eyes with handkerchief. "Goodbye, paragraph. I'll miss you.")

    That aside, this is a touching and entertaining story that saunters with self-confidence like a model down a catwalk (assuming the model knows which way to pass). Unlike the model, though, while reading this book you will never look – or feel – bored.

    Related products and pages:

    Half a Creature from the Sea: A Life in Stories, by David Almond

    Whale Boy, by Nicola Davies

    Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier