I’m gonna be honest here. This is not usually my kind of book. I’m not necessarily the target audience. But because it’s written by Cecil Castellucci, I had to give it a go.
And boy am I glad I did. (Listen to my conversation with Castellucci here.)
Don’t Cosplay with My Heart is an ode to the glorious and brutal reality of being a young nerd today. Which is a totally different thing from being a young nerd in the ’80s and ’90s, which hits much closer to home.
Being a nerd is no longer a rare or outsider thing; only being your particular kind of nerd is. Being a nerd is mainstream with hard-core nerd edges. Which means the modern nerd has to be prepared to be the early-bird nerd in order to not miss the nerd train.
That right there wasn’t true when I was a kid. Being a nerd instantly placed you on the outside. There was no acceptance. So it’s weird for me to read about Edan Kupferman—a high schooler who’s totally obsessed with Team Tomorrow (a superhero team a la Justice League) and team member Gargantua—who starts a cosplay club at school and is totally at ease with her particular fandom.
Even though I can’t personally relate to Edan, her story is still incredibly hopeful. Being a nerd in 2018 IS mainstream, and I have to be hopeful that it’ll be even more accepted by the time my kids (6 and 8) hit high school.
As narrator, Edan invites the reader inside her head and exposes not only her nerdy obsessions but also her self-doubt, uncertainties, failings, insecurities, and paranoia. We see through her eyes as her family falls apart around her (her father is arrested and her mother sinks into a depression) and as she navigates high school romance with two very different boys.
On one level, those boys bring about the typical stresses associated with teen relationships. On another, they act as surrogates for two very different experiences women have in geek fandom. One respects and welcomes Edan’s nerdiness; the other gatekeeps, mansplains, and constantly questions.
Here is the truth about being a nerd. You don’t have to be an expert in something, you just have to be passionate. There is no test and no application. Only love of a thing that is the best.
But the story isn’t JUST about Edan’s competing love interests. It’s about her passion for cosplay. It’s about the increasingly strained relationship with her mother and grandmother as they all struggle to deal with her father’s shady business deals, which landed him in jail. It’s about maintaining friendships when secrets keep piling up.
It’s about Edan learning to embrace who she is (and not who others want her to be). It’s about finding the superhero insider herself.
Castellucci isn’t shy about the nerdy spine running throughout the book. From the first sentence, it’s clear what we’re getting:
It’s no wonder when I see the cheap Gargantua mask I picked up on Free Comic Book Day this past spring on my desk, I put it on and leave it on when I am called down to dinner. Gargantua, my favorite character from Team Tomorrow, is ten feet tall and so is the size of my being pissed off at everything right now.
Don’t Cosplay with My Heart is steeped in comic-con culture and will appeal to anyone who has also been to his or her share of cons. There are a lot of “in jokes” and “industry language” that might sound a little foreign if this is a brave new world for you. However, even if you haven’t ever been to a con, Castellucci includes enough vivid descriptions to make you feel like you’ve been to one.
She even includes a shout-out to her own character over at DC Comics: Shade the Changing Girl.
If you’ve got a middle or high schooler floundering in the ocean of peer pressure because of their fandoms and interests, do them a favor and put this book in their hands. Castellucci writes from a place of personal experience, and Edan’s story is an important one to share.
Comics can make you cry. They can shove their mighty fist into your chest and rip out your heart.
(Disclosure: Scholastic sent me a review copy of this book. All opinions remain my own.)