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The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth, by Alexandra Robbins

15 Mar

2011, Hyperion, ISBN 978-1-4013-0202-3

Plot Summary: The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth is journalist Alexandra Robbins’ look at how the “cafeteria fringe” – the groups of kids outside the popularity sphere – are often the teens who find success after high school.

Robbins follows six high schoolers and one teacher from different groups that make up her “cafeteria fringe” – the band geek, the nerd, the loner, the new girl, the gamer, the weird girl, and the “popular bitch” – and weaves their experiences throughout a regular school year with sociological research on conformity, popularity, and changing perceptions. She comes up with some interesting insights, most notably, her  “Quirk Theory”, which posits that  the characteristics that lead tweens and teens to exclude each other socially in school are the same characteristics or skills that will be valued and admired in those same students after high school and into adulthood.

Critical Evaluation: Quirk Theory is an interesting concept, and it certainly appears to be grounded in fact, when you witness the success of public figures like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Angelina Jolie, Taylor Swift, and other notable personalities who have come forth about being “different” or “weird”, and therefore excluded or bullied, in school. The book provides an eye-opening look at how cliques rule the school, often ith teacher approval – or, at the very least, without being challenged – and how faculties often have their own cliques.

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth is an adult book, but should be required reading in high school The case studies alone will reach readers of all groups. It can generate meaningful discussion and perhaps build bridges between students and between teachers and students. Teachers need to read this book in order to stay in touch with what really goes on in school and to be mindful of kids who are excluded.

Reviews: LIbrary Journal (starred review): ““An excellent overview of the complex social environment of high school, told in an accessible and often humorous and touching manner. High school students as well as adults, especially those who are or were part of the “cafeteria fringe,” will enjoy this book. Very highly recommended.”

Chicago Sun-Times: “Required reading for anyone who has ever felt left out…or misunderstood. Schools everywhere would do well to incorporate it into their curriculum.. Robbins’ ode to the cafeteria fringe will have you laughing, cheering, shocked.”

Kirkus Reviews: Offers real hope to adolescents… The author has a gift for writing fact like fiction…and the students and their stories are thoroughly engaging… These stories are not just entertaining but important.”

Awards: Finalist, Books for a Better Life (2011); Nominee, Alex Awards (2012), GoodReads Best Nonfiction Book (2011)

Reader’s Annotation: If you think the popular kids’ table is the table you need to be sitting at, think again.

Author Information: Alexandra Robbins’ website offers information about all of her books, contact information, author event information, and links to social media. 

Genre: Nonfiction, high school, teenagers, education, sociology

Booktalking Ideas: Where do you think you sit in terms of the cafeteria? Are you at the popular kids’ table? The goths? The emos? Are you  just a normal kid, trying to fit in? What do you think about popularity in high school – does it matter when you move on?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 16+

Challenge Issues/Defense: Possible challenges center around drug and alcohol use and teenager sexuality. Defense: These are actual teens’ stories. Not a glorification, Robbins presents these stories to illustrate what teenagers are doing to be popular these days. If anything, the behaviors illustrated in Geeks should start conversations between teens and parents and teens and educators.

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?

An adult book with YA crossover potential, the true-life stories of the popular kids vs. everyone else was an intriguing premise. A great deal of YA fiction covers this theme, and I wanted to read about the real stories to see how it matches up. Art does imitate life.

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