Everyone is a nerd about something, says author Cecil Castellucci in her latest novel. And we can attest to that. At various times over the years we’ve been inordinately preoccupied with a sundry of things. Rat Fink, Ricky Nelson, Angela Mao, RC Cola – the list goes on and on. Comic books, especially, have been a life-long obsession.
Castellucci’s novel will undoubtedly appeal to everyone ensconced in a Comic-Con-like bubble. The author mentions “free comic book day” in the first sentence of the book, and goes on to joyously name check a string of nerd icons such as B’Elanna Torres (Star Trek: Voyager), Izabel (Saga), and Shade, the Changing Girl.
These days, being a nerd is mainstream with hard-core edges. As proof, Castellucci casts her writerly gaze toward a highly enthusiastic sub-nerd niche. Don’t Cosplay with My Heart is the story of a high school girl named Edan who copes with a significant family crisis by dressing up like Gargantua, her favorite comic book character (“I need to be more like her and less like me,” she says at one point). Cosplay also gives Edan the wherewithal to navigate tricky social situations and even trickier romantic entanglements.
Sadly, nerd culture isn’t all Hello Kitty hugs and all-night LARPing parties. Sexism, bullying, and boorish behavior continue to plague the community like a “Dutch Oven” (look it up). To her credit, Castellucci doesn’t turn a blind eye to these lingering issues.
In particular, there’s a geek chorus of boys who continually harass and disrespect Edan throughout the book. They question her nerd cred and dismiss her opinions every chance they get. “You’re the girl who pretends to be all cool, but you really aren’t,” says their leader in a novel-ending harangue. “Girls like you … you pretend to be into stuff, learn to talk the talk, hooking up with boys, invading our spaces.” It’s a brutal verbal attack, but we’re betting it mirrors similar #MeToo conversations all women have had at some point in their lives.
Never mind that these nerd bullies aren’t fully formed characters. Castellucci doesn’t seem to care. She’s using broad strokes to make her point. Whether you’re an editor at DC Comics or a member of your high school cosplay club, you need to be respectful and inclusive. Let the girls have their fan fun without being belittled, insulted, ogled, or groped. “Here’s the truth about being a nerd,” says Edan. “You don’t have to be an expert in something, you just have to be passionate. There is no test and no application. If you say you’re a geek, then you’re a geek.”
[Don’t Cosplay with My Heart / By Cecil Castellucci / First Printing; January 2018 / ISBN: 9781338125498]