Queens of Geek
March 14, 2017
Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Fan conventions are a singular kind of experience and are definitely not for everyone. For many fans, across all kinds of media, the three days to a week spent geeking out inside a convention hall could be paradise itself or could be a tedious series of lines, panels you can barely see, and terrible food. I know I’ve certainly experienced both over the years, and it’s those experiences that Jen Wilde brings out in her debut novel Queens of Geek.
Female fans aren’t always given the spotlight even at conventions, but Wilde chooses to centre her story around three best friends–Taylor, Charlie, and Jamie–as they head to SupaCon for the very first time. Charlie’s a well-known YouTuber and indie movie star. Her film The Rising is her ticket to SupaCon and moderate fame. Taylor and Jamie accompany her from Melbourne, and a couple different romantic and fannish threads open up during their week in California.
At first glance, Queens of Geek is a book that seems almost tailor-made for a reader like me, admittedly geeky and reticent in public. Wilde captures a lot of the social aspects of being a geeky fan, and the dialogue reflects them, with fast and furious references to TV shows, movies, and book series on almost every page. These references do run the risk of making the novel feel dated. I definitely struggled to identify where some specific phrases came from, even knowing the shows or series. Queens of Geek has a very specific reader in mind and caters solely to them, which means that casual readers might not be as enthralled.
As for the plot, there weren’t any surprises for me, although the characters were charming. I liked seeing Charlie and Taylor and Jamie attend their first big convention, navigating the awkward situations they found themselves in every day. Even more refreshing was the realization that Charlie was Chinese-Australian, and Wilde’s awareness of the trope that her character’s hair plays into:
He raises an eyebrow. “Your hair is pink.”
I run a hand through my hair self-consciously. “Yeah, I had to do it. I got a guest role in a sci-fi show, and they wanted ‘an Asian girl with dyed hair’–original, I know–but I liked it, so I kept it.”
Charlie’s character arc is fun and fulfilling as we see her move out of the shadow of her ex-boyfriend and fall in love with fellow YouTube star Alyssa Huntington. There’s self-doubt, sure, but Charlie’s crush is never demonized or judged within the story. It’s normal and adorable to watch unfold. Likewise, Taylor’s will-they-won’t-they dance with Jamie is a sweet subplot and offers a glimpse at the quieter fans among us at these cons, managing their anxiety and spoons as they have fun.
Queens of Geek feels like a book I would have enjoyed immensely ten years ago as I rattled off geeky references just as quickly as Taylor does. Reading it was like watching little sisters step out of their comfort zones, push their way into joyful moments, even as the descriptions of the convention brought me back to some exhausting days spent on the con floor.