Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In the Zone: Geek Chic: The Zoey Zone by Margie Palatini

... Being halfway to eleven is when you really absolutely need a fairy godmother the most. I'm going to require major fairy dust intervention in the hair department alone. There are just so many days a person can wear a hat, if you know what I mean.


Sixth grade is only 198 days away. That's not a lot of time to learn about all the stuff you need to learn about.... Venus says her sister says that if you're not cool by sixth grade, you are not going to live happily ever after in sixth grade. The Cool Police are taking notes.

There are some kids (Brittany and Ashley, a.k.a. The Bashleys), who have the cool quality innately--perfect little bodies that look good in whatever current style and hair that never even needs combing (although they do it constantly)--and rule the school from the center of the universe, their table at lunch. Others, like Zoey and her friend Venus, expend molto energy trying to catch the cool. Zoey's hair, however, stands up and out and every which-way, but mostly in her way on the way to popularity: she was apparently born with a terminal case of bed head, which she handles by wearing hats as much as possible, thereby acquiring hat head when she's ordered to remove them for violating Harry S. Truman School's Rule #5--Absolutely No Hats Allowed.

On a particularly bad hair day (day 181 in the cool countdown), Zoey covers her wayward locks as best she can with her grandfather's old fedora, and donning his vintage bowling team shirt (Grabowski's Tool and Die with Ray stitched on the pocket), sets off for school hoping that what she's wearing will pass the test as a costume of quirky retro cool. The hat is greeted with mixed reviews, but Zoey manages to avoid notice by her hat hawk principal, Mrs. Pappazian, as she makes her way to the hallway where her bulging locker is located. And that's when the fairy dust descends dramatically into the Zoey Zone!

There she finds a team of New York-ish garbed photographers from the 'tween 'zine U Grl, clicking photos of The Bashleys and selected Friends of Bashleys right in front of her locker. And at that moment a fairy godmother in the form of the project boss (Lady in Black named Jazz) turns and mouths the magic words which hold the Key to Cool for Zoey's future:

"Does anyone have something INTERESTING in their LOCKER, that we can USE in the PHOTOGRAPHS?"

"I DoooooooooOOOOOOOOOO!" says Zoey.

"Hmmmm. Interesting." says Jazz. "So, Ray, what have you got in that locker of yours?

Jazz watches with delight as a avalanche of items cascade from Zoey's locker--4 books on the presidents, a piccolo, 2 owl-puke pellets, a book on King Tut, 3 tennis balls, 1 tube of green paint, and a roll of orange duct tape--to name a few.

"Fun! Get all of this, Maya," Jazz orders her camo-booted assistant. "Geek chic? LOVE IT"!

Zoey and Venus become the stars of the photo shoot, Zoey is offered a blog/column in the magazine, and with the forthcoming U Grl featuring the new cool celebrities of Harry S. Truman Elementary, Zoey finds she now has the option of seating at The Bashley Table at lunch to choose (or NOT.) After all, Table Ten, with the other chic geeks, is the center of her own cool universe.

Palatini sets off her unique character's musings on the higher path to coolness in a short and spiffy little novel in which Zoey's creativity leaps from the page with a rich pastiche of fonts, text boxes, drawings, and visual gags that help this light and bouncy storyline bound off the page, making this book both cutting-edge graphic chic and fine fare for the reluctant reader. A sort of girls' answer to Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid and sequels, Geek Chic: The Zoey Zone has wide appeal to 'tween girls contemplating the call to be cool in middle school.

For another uniquely designed story of "making it in middle school," see my post on Jennifer Holm's Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff, reviewed here.

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