Netflix’s Geek Girl: Is the Show Based on a Book?

‘Geek Girl’ narrates the story of Harriet Manners, a self-described geek who struggles to fit in at school because of her neurodivergence, quirks, and uncommon interests. Harriet happens upon a life-changing opportunity when she is scouted to be a model for a high-profile agency. A new chapter of Harriet’s life unfurls as she explores the glamorous and idiosyncratic world of fashion. The Netflix coming-of-age comedy creates a contrast between Harriet’s life in high school as a wallflower and her status as a rising star in high fashion. The spectacular journey and relatable character of Harriet leave some of us pondering the possibility of the show being based on a true story.

Geek Girl is Inspired by the Author’s Emotions and Experiences

The story of ‘Geek Girl’ is based on author Holly Smale’s book series of the same name. The character of Harriet is deeply inspired by real-life experiences and influences on Holly Smale. The author confesses that while Harriet has her own distinct identity, there are undeniable similarities between them. Memories of teenage emotions, struggles, and triumphs serve as the foundation for Harriet’s narrative, with the story rooted in the author’s personal journey of self-discovery. The similarities between the author and the character start with a feeling of being different from other kids and having an inkling that something is wrong with them.

Smale felt that way ever since she was a child, and would find it difficult and overwhelming to interact with other kids, instead preferring to sit by herself. “I’d worked out very early that I had to people watch, because I genuinely thought I was an alien. That I’d been dropped off on the planet, no manual attached,” said Holly in an interview. “And I remember going over to groups of people and monologuing at them about my dinosaur facts or my box full of rocks that I collected.” Much like the teen Harriet seen in the show, Smale’s neurodivergence isolated her from her peers, who stayed away from her at best and bullied her at worst.

When she was 39 years old, Smale was diagnosed with autism, and much of her life experiences began making sense to her. Harriet’s entry into the fashion world is also inspired by Smale’s own successful stint within it. When She spotted a modeling agency at the age of 15, she looked to it as a means to “fix” herself. She hoped that the experts within the agency would show her how to be normal, dress her up well, and teach her to blend in. Interestingly, Smale had an edge in modeling because of her undiagnosed autism. She struggled to integrate facial expressions into her speech and poses, and her emotionally dead look became a hit with her employers.

While the experiences provided Smale with insight and a level of fulfillment, they did little to change her status as a geeky girl. At the age of 26, she was home for Christmas, and while sitting at her childhood desk, was suddenly hit with the inspiration for ‘Geek Girl.’ “The name came to me, and the voice came to me. It was one of those magical moments and I got a tingle all over me and I was like, ‘This is the right story for me,’” said the author in the aforementioned interview. She wrote about a girl who likes facts and is a geek who struggles with making friends and understanding jokes. After writing a few chapters, Smale realized that the girl in the book is essentially her.

“I use my memories of how I felt as a teenager to write it, and the seed of the idea was something that happened to me,” revealed the author in an interview. “And while 95% of the scenes are totally imaginary, all the emotions are real. Pain, heartbreak, love in all its guises, homesickness, loneliness, joy, pride: they’re all things I’ve experienced and used as the bones of my books. I just dress that emotional skeleton with the clothes of fiction.” Another character from the books and the series with a real-life counterpart is Harriet’s father, who has several similarities with the author’s own father.

Upon its publication as a book series, Smale received praise and thanks from her readers, who felt understood and resonated with the character owing to the authentic life experiences she was based on. Fascinatingly, it is through the story of Harriet that Smale came close to discovering her own neurodivergent condition. She received an email from the National Autistic Society asking her if she realized that Harriet is on the autism spectrum. Initially outraged at the assertion, Smale soon began reading up on autism and realized that she was checking all the boxes.

An assessment with a psychologist proved that the theory was true and that both the author, and thereby, her character have autism. Owing to the negative connotations and stigma attached to the condition, Smale took some time before she decided to go public with the information. Ultimately, she realized that it would raise awareness about the experiences of neurodivergent individuals like her and provide comfort and a feeling of camaraderie to them. Netflix’s ‘Geek Girl’ largely adheres to the book series, which is firmly based on the author’s real-life experiences cloaked with robes of fiction.

Read More: Best Movies About Autism on Netflix