Review: ‘The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth’ by Alexandra Robbins
BY DUSTIN MICHAEL HARRIS firstname.lastname@example.org May 12, 2011 6:52PM
THE GEEKS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH QUIRK THEORY AND WHY OUTSIDERS THRIVE AFTER HIGH SCHOOL By Alexandra Robbins, Hyperion, 448 pages, $25.99
THE GEEKS SHALL
INHERIT THE EARTH
QUIRK THEORY AND WHY
OUTSIDERS THRIVE AFTER
By Alexandra Robbins
Hyperion, 448 pages, $25.99
Updated: June 16, 2011 12:18AM
If high school was the best time of your life, chances are you have little in common with the teenagers in Alexandra Robbins’ The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth . Drudging up all the awkward memories and cringe-worthy behavior that comes with being a teenager, the best-selling author mercilessly sends us back to school to learn why the freaks and geeks, or “cafeteria fringe,” often grow up to be more successful and admired than their popular counterparts.
At the heart of Geeks is quirk theory, which “hypothesizes that the very characteristics that exclude the cafeteria fringe in school are the same traits that will make them successful as adults and outside the school setting”: creativity/originality, freethinking/vision, resilience, authenticity/self-awareness, integrity/candor, curiosity/love of learning/passion, and courage.
Robbins’ breezy writing style allows her to effortlessly wade through compelling psychological data, pop culture trends and interviews with high school students, but her narrative masterstroke lies in the decision to follow seven individuals who exemplify the cafeteria fringe. These “characters” are the heart and soul of the book.
It’s a pleasure getting to know Blue (The Gamer), Danielle (The Loner), Regan (The Weird Girl), Eli (The Nerd), Noah (The Band Geek), Joy (The New Girl) and Whitney (The Popular Bitch). Each of our heroes embodies some, if not all of the characteristics of quirk theory, and compelling reads are plenty. Regan’s narrative takes an especially shocking turn. Let’s just say the culture among teachers isn’t much better than the students they teach. That said, it’s Blue who really steals the book.
An openly gay teenager at a small school in Hawaii, Blue is a free-thinking, passionate, intelligent senior dealing with loneliness, “friends” who treat him terribly, the threat of not graduating, and a mother who insists on sending him to the military instead of college. Blue is the emotional center of Geeks and it’s impossible to not root for him. In one of the book’s most touching scenes, he befriends the valedictorians of his class as part of a challenge issued by Robbins (she issued challenges designed to take each of her subjects out of their comfort zones). At graduation, Blue listens to one of his new friends thank him in front of thousands of people for having such a positive impact on her life. Turns out, he wrote her speech that night, too.
The goal of Geeks is admirable, and Robbins is smart enough to transcend her book’s title. She isn’t a disgruntled nerd out to rip popular kids or promote the validity of some labels over others. Geeks is about the struggle all kids face in the fight to forge an identity during their most formative years. Within the high school setting, individuality suffers and conformity rules. It’s a global problem. Citing a 2006 Scottish health services report, Robbins writes, the “capacity for divergent thinking (a good proxy for creativity and imagination) declines steadily from 98 percent at age 3-5 to just 2 percent at age 25 as we progress through the educational system.” The report’s author concluded, “We teach conformity.” Our heroes are just that because they refuse to conform — an easy route to popularity in the high school world.
With the inclusion of Whitney, the reader gets a frightening look into the world of the populars. Whitney chose to call herself “The Popular Bitch” because she recognized that being mean is an effective way to hold onto status. Popularity in high school isn’t about being well-liked so much as it’s about being visible and part of a selective group. And populars are just as tough on their own as they are on those they perceive as outcasts. Robbins writes about a group in Arkansas that calls themselves “The Exclusives” and has an entire host of rules for its members. Some of the rules: “All weight is reported to the group”; “all sex is to be admitted to the group and scored 1-5”; “eating disorders are okay, but they have to be secret.” When Whitney “de-cliques” herself from the populars, she is disheartened to learn that other groups preach conformity as well.
Geeks is required reading for anyone who has ever felt left out, dismissed, laughed at, bullied or misunderstood. High schools everywhere would do well to incorporate it into their curriculum and heed the solutions offered. Robbins’ ode to the cafeteria fringe will have you laughing, cheering, shocked, a little depressed and at times, fuming. Just like high school.