Ashley Poston’s debut novel Geekerella (2017) is definitely not just another Cinderella revision. Classic elements of the familiar story are all present in one shape or another, but Poston brings a distinctly nerd-friendly flair to her tale, and modernizes the characters in ways that turn impossible archetypes into accessible, complicated people.
Danielle “Elle” Wittimer lives with her stepmother and twin stepsisters in a crumbling old Charleston, SC house. Sadly, her mother died when Elle was just four years old, and her beloved father passed away shortly after remarrying, granting legal custody of both Elle and the home to his second wife. Catherine is, to put it nicely, a selfish social climber who spends money she doesn’t have on country club memberships for her daughters while forcing Elle to perform menial household duties. Elle’s only sources of relief are her job at a vegan food truck and endless re-watches of a classic science fiction television series, Starfield; when the news breaks that a soap opera actor will be the lead in a Starfield reboot movie, Elle writes an impassioned blog post objecting to this obviously heinous cast choice…
…which catches the eye of Darien Freeman, reluctant star of Seaside Cove and secret nerd, whose dream in life has been to play the role of Prince Carmindor. Darien was inspired as a child to go into acting because of Starfield’s original lead actor, David Singh, a groundbreaking person of color; the fact that Prince Carmindor isn’t being whitewashed is a true moment of triumph and personal pride for Darien. But his overbearing manager won’t let Darien shed his brainless pretty-boy image, and Elle’s righteously angry (anonymous) blog post leads Darien down the path of accidentally contacting her, also anonymously, sparking a text-only conversation in which they discover a mutual love of science fiction while he learns his lines and she works on her costume for the masquerade ball at the upcoming Starfield-inspired ExcelsiCon.
Elle and Darien’s individual insecurities and strengths allow each of them to experience a range of emotions and support one another through problems, a refreshing change of pace from the source material, which focused only on Cinderella’s saintliness and left the prince as no more than a handsome cipher. As their relationship blooms, they take charge of their lives and make room for friends, paving the way for growth and maturation. Darien’s personal assistant, Gail, and Elle’s co-worker Sage provide voices of reason and additional support in times of crisis — moments that will be familiar to anyone with a basic knowledge of core elements from the fairy tale, but which are given a distinctly nerd-friendly patina and modern twists. (There’s more than one reason the food truck is called The Magic Pumpkin.) My only complaint is that a subplot involving Darien’s manager and a potential stalker was could have used some shoring up in order for the end result to support the threatening build-up, but otherwise Geekerella is a fine first novel.
Despite the overabundance of fairy-tale retellings in the YA market, Geekerella is a welcome and necessary addition to the roster. With an emphasis firmly on an appreciation for nerd culture in all its shapes and forms, Poston’s updated setting and open-armed inclusivity — and the wonderfully happy ending — is sure to make fangirl (and -boy) hearts swell. Highly recommended.