Girl From Mars
by Julie Cohen, contemporary (2009)
Little Black Dress Books, £5.99, ISBN 978-0-7553-4139-9


The plot of Girl From Mars intrigues me because it's about a bunch of social misfits who could never fit in with the rest of the crowd. What happens when one of them falls in love with one of those people? Jealousy thinly veiled as concern, guilt over "betraying" one's friends, and such follow.

First there were four. Philomena Desdemona Brown is the current artist for the popular comic Girl From Mars. Her childhood friend James is a computer programmer. Digger lives for role-playing games and making a living from selling his stuff on eBay. Stevo is a fellow artist from Fil's publisher. They meet on evenings to watch The X-Files and do other things self-proclaimed geeks do. Hey, it could be worse - they could be sprinkling glitter over themselves and chasing after various productions of Rent all across the Northern Hemisphere.

Then the inevitable happens. Stevo finds himself a boyfriend. From all accounts, he's a hot and normal boyfriend. And as Stevo bails out from more and more of their get-togethers, it's apparent that Stevo is not only having lots of fabulous sex, he's also not going to introduce the boyfriend to them anytime soon. Oh no, Stevo has crossed over and become one of them. For the remaining three nerds who are, let's just say, celibate by default, this is a pretty hard blow to take. After a disastrous attempt to assuage themselves that they too have what it takes in a nightclub, the three drunk and miserable fellows decide to take up a vow: they will not get involved in any romantic relationships with other people. Well, Fil then has to fall in love with the new writer she is assigned to work with, the American movie hotshot Daniel McKay who is brought onboard to give the sagging sales of the comic a boost.

Girl From Mars is a pleasant read because it's like an adult version of a movie by John Hughes. In fact, I can easily envision Molly Ringwald playing Fil, heh. As someone who adore the cheesy melodrama of those movies back in the 1980s, I find that there are much similar cheesy nerd angst here that I simply adore reading about. I can't help experiencing a "been there, done that, here's the T-shirt" feeling as I read this story because I can certainly relate to these characters. Nerd cliques aren't solely about friendship - they also allow the members to use each other to validate their own existence. Losing a member of the clique to those people means that there is one less friend that a lonely social misfit can relate to, and also, it means that there has to be something wrong with the lonely social misfit if his or her friend can become "accepted" while he or she can't. It's more than friendship being on the line here, it's also a blow to the self-esteem.

I have to warn you, though, this isn't a particularly genuine tale of a social misfit. To be honest, I don't see why Fil is a social misfit. Regularly dying her hair is one thing, but I doubt it is enough to brand her as a social misfit. It's not like Fil is depicted as horribly plain, shy, or anything of that sort that would hamper her social interactions with other people. Instead, Fil comes off as very self-absorbed, scatterbrained, and even selfish when it comes to other people. I get this impression that Fil is not a big hit with the men she encountered prior to Dan because of her personality rather than any social awkwardness on her part. And of course, once the author decides that Fil should fall in love, she has two men vying for her affections, right down to the [spoiler starts] Pretty In Pink style ending where she chooses the "popular rich guy" over the odd duck who has been in love with her all these years. It's James' fault for not telling her how he feels about her earlier and sparing them both the silly games, but I guess at the end of the day, even misfit gals want to have a Perfect Rich "Normal" Popular Boyfriend. [spoiler ends]

Still, I guess it's not that bad even if the heroine doesn't feel like a true socially inept person. Hollywood does this "Plain girl takes off her glasses or lets her hair down and suddenly she's the Prom Queen" trope all the time and given that this book feels exactly like one of those movies, I'm more than happy to go along with it. It's always nice to relive a little of the corny, sometimes cringe-inducing, but always campy and fun experience of those emo teen movies of the 1980s.

Rating: 81


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