Maybe I’m getting too old for some YA authors. Maybe I’ve grown out of some YA characters. Either way, I read through a lot of Robin Palmer’s Geek Charming with clenched teeth.
I first read Robin Palmer’s work when I was fifteen or sixteen. It was around this age that I really started (mentally) critiquing the books I read, and I remember critiquing a lot about her work. And yet, when I found Geek Charming, one of very few contemporary YA retellings of The Frog Prince, I was intrigued, despite it being written by an author who I, frankly, was not enthusiastic about.
Dylan Schoenfield is pretty much the princess of her L.A. high school. Although quite pretty and popular, she is exceedingly vain and self-centered. When she accidentally tosses her coveted new bag into a mall fountain, she convinces her classmate/film geek Josh Rosen to get it for her. In exchange for getting her bag back, however, Josh asks that Dylan participate in a documentary he is making for a film school application. Dylan thinks she’s got quite a frog on her hands, but…he’s probably more of a prince than she thinks…
One thing I noticed right up front when I started reading YA was its glamorization of high school. Student news spreads like wildfire because everyone has everyone’s phone number. Everyone cares about who gets voted into Homecoming Court. School dances are the end-all-be-all social events that everyone worries about. There is a queen bee ruling each class, if not the whole school. Of course, any normal person would quickly learn that high school has none of that—at least, my high school didn’t.
I know it’s usually played up for effect, but still, I sometimes wondered if you could write a contemporary YA fairy tale without resorting to those Hollywood clichés.
Now, it’s not the glamorization I have a problem with. It’s the caricatures that populate these fictional schools: the characters that walk a fine line between being flawed and being unbelievably, almost unlikably shallow. It’s a very, very delicate line, and care must be taken so that your shallow queen bee with a hidden heart of gold does not resonate as a horrible, selfish, manipulative, and all around dumb-as-bricks shrew.
Dylan, this book’s “princess,” walks that line the whole book. I could not decide whether I was genuinely supposed to hate her ninety-percent of the book, or if Robin Palmer did not know when to draw the line with Dylan’s selfish personality. She thinks the world revolves around her; she doesn’t listen to important details; she cannot read a room for the life of her. She is so lost in her own world that her vanity and naiveté make her look delusional and stupid. Listen to any conversation she has about her on-off boyfriend Asher, and you’ll probably gag from how out of touch with reality Dylan seems.
You might say that that’s the way of shallow YA protagonists, but there is a huge difference between humanly flawed, and just…dumb. I had to take several breaks to unclench my teeth and uncoil my stomach because Dylan tried my patience so much. The fact that half the book is told from her POV makes things even worse, and I honestly dreaded every chapter from her perspective.
On that note, can Josh, this book’s “frog”, make things any better?
Well, I definitely related more to Josh in that he is a geek: a film geek in this case. Also, he is just as annoyed as the reader is with Dylan, and him finally calling her out on her bullshit feels so good! But…the fact that he takes a lot of Dylan’s abuse lying down and acts as her go-to guy for very superficial reasons doesn’t help his case. You could argue he is doing it so Dylan will remain the subject of his film app documentary, and I give him credit for snapping at her relatively quickly, but…God, Josh, have a little self-respect!
I actually wondered at one point, given how Dylan treats Josh, how this book would read if it were a guy bossing around a girl. That’s how worrisome their relationship felt at times.
Now, I’ll admit, and I say this very lightly, Dylan and Josh do have some genuine moments that sort of make up for their behavior, but…God, Dylan is just such a bitch half the time that I kept thinking, “Josh, honey, you can do so much better than a girl who belittles your medical problems and tries to change you for vanity reasons.”
Maybe it’s just that I despised Dylan so much that the book felt like it went on forever too. Although the book is an average length of 338 pages, it just kept going, and going, and going.
So…what’s the verdict?
Well, if you think you can stomach Dylan’s dumb-queen-bee-to-the-extreme personality, and if you’re truly desperate for a contemporary Frog Prince retelling…maybe you’ll find something about it. Honestly, it reinforced some of the worst tropes of fluffy YA high school stories, and I’ve learned my lesson to not read Robin Palmer again soon.