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Geography Club—novel vs movie



Now, this is a slightly different review because I won't suggest a book or a movie per se, but rather show the strengths and weaknesses of a story by its two adaptations.

The plot diverges somewhat by taking different approaches to the topic, but not to an extent to which the overall idea respectively their similarities would become unrecognizable. That being set, let’s dive right into it, shall we?


Geography Club—chosen because it's the most boring club possible, so nobody would voluntarily attend—is a cover for a GSA even though, they internally don’t name it as such until later in the story.

The novel

I think, the downfall of Russel is depicted more severely in the novel, but actually in a very well-made metaphorical way. Russel tells us about the different tables in the school cafeteria and about Brian Bund and how he feels separated from everyone else, just like Kevin does. This abundantly becomes clear when they meet in the pizza place where first try to start a conversation and then to decide on one pizza topping for all of them, and they realize, they are very different after all despite all of them being queer. They feel relieved to be not the only queer kid at school and that there are others that feel similar to how they feel. However, in terms of group dynamics, they have a rough start—some pairings work and some absolutely don’t.

One scene in particular, that stood out to me, was their meeting in the cafeteria after they have been only meeting outside of school. In the beginning, they feel out of place with their peers but now, setting with the other queers, makes them feel no less awkward.

Other than in the movie adaption, Russel eventually hits rock bottom by alienating all his friends, starting with a vote where he had to decide between Kevin and Min, over being outed to his football friends, and lastly messing it up with Gunnar. Even Min and Terese break up. Russel even ends up sitting with Brian Bund, because he isn’t welcome at any other table anymore. He literally came from hero to zero. But Brian accepts him, even though, Russel had treated Brian pretty poorly. Brian also is a character with a different attitude towards his treatment. He is so used to it, he pretends to not even care about it anymore and has a special kind of humor to cope with it. Brian even teaches Russel, that one should not care what people think. That’s also the first time, Brian is considered a human being by any character. Russel, ending up at the bottom of the food chain, even eating with and talking to Brian might be ironic at first, but is only logical if you think about it: After what he’d done to Brian and him being selfish, letting success turn his head, he had to pay the price and at the same time come to terms with what brought him there as well as finding his way back to being true to himself.

Another interesting side plot is Belinda joining the Geography Club: First, she is seen as a threat, then, she makes the Club more diverse by being non-gay (a typical real-life discussion topic at Pride marches), and finally, she reveals to be marginalized, too. That can be seen as the first hint at the later GSA. So the secret queer club turns into a support group for marginalized people. That’s another big topic in the community: Just because one is, for example, gay, it doesn’t mean, that very person isn’t, for instance, transphobic. The message is clear: Queer people are not less invited to look further than their own noses than cis straight folks are. Interestingly, she doesn’t appear in the movie adaption. There, her character gets merged into Brian.

The movie

The movie adaption however turns it way more into a blackmailing kind of story—remotely similar to Love, Simon. Other than in the novel adaption, here, Min finds out about Kevin and Russel by accident when she watches them kiss each other. I actually like this version better, since even though, Min forces them into joining the Geography Club by blackmailing them, it ironically feels less forced than in the novel where Russel comes up with the idea of meeting in the pizza place because being queer seems to be enough similarities for him—which turns out to be very wrong. The blackmailing comes in handy as a plot device and plays into the theme's hands of the fear to be outed.

A character interesting character is Ms. Toles: She doesn’t have much screen time, but I think, she shouldn’t be overlooked. This teacher stands up for modern sex education against Reverend Bowd, but eventually loses this fight by being fired. On one hand, she—besides Brian Bund—serves as an example for the reader and the Geography Club of why the club is so afraid of being outed. On the other hand, even though, it doesn’t work out, Ms. Toles is a shining example of how sex education should be told at school today. She even provoked her dismissal by giving an interview to the school newspaper about her views on sex education, after she already lost her reputation by practicing sex education in a very open-minded way. That makes her a great role model as well as an ally that stands up for what she believes in. In the movie version, she gets her job back in the end and supervises the GSA.

If I recall it properly, Kevin is way more considerate in the novel adaption. He makes sure, Russel is fine and even tells him, he should make his own decisions instead of trying to please him. Russel, on the other hand, by doing exactly that, messes everything up just to be with his love interest. Kevin's behavior changes when Russel’s reputation is restored. At that point, we can see, where they really primarily stand after all, what they won’t give up for the world.

Other notable changes are: In the movie version, Russel only rejects Brian joining the club; in the novel, however, he outright bullies him to look cool in front of his jock friends. Also, in the movie adaption, the idea to found the GSA comes right after Russel is outed by Kimberly, but instead of Brian making the application to clear Russel’s name, here, Russel has the idea to be out and proud. Therefore, Min isn’t angry at him anymore, which takes a little longer in the novel. While Kevin also joins the club in the novel version, in the movie, Kevin avoids it even after being blackmailed by Min and sends Russel to check the club out.

One thing, that is not in the book but in the movie, is that Russel’s parents want him to have a conservative lifestyle including marrying a woman, and he decides against that. Kevin’s parents, on the other hand, would be cool with him being gay, but despite that, he wants a career and is convinced he’d only have it as long as he convinces everybody that he is straight. That’s why Russel breaks up with him after a fight. In the novel, Russel is over it, and they leave as friends. While Russel is relieved, Kevin has a really hard time, including Russel seeing him cry for the first time. Gunnar even breaks up with Kimberly in the movie version. But other than in the novel, he had no clue, Russel was gay.


So, which one is better? You might be disappointed, but hear me out: Both tackle the topic in their own unique way, and both have a different quality to it.

What I like, in both adaptions, Russel is neither an underdog nor a highly polished jock. Oftentimes, one of these tropes is used to fit into stereotypes. He is not even as good-looking as Simon in Love, Simon, but that might just be my perception. And that’s actually a good thing. None of his traits is outstanding, but to Kevin, Russel is beautiful.

I really love, that the story keeps us in suspense almost the entire length of the story. Even more, do I love all the metaphors, first and foremost, the cafeteria.


On a personal note: Have you read Subconscious Mind? In that story, in drama club, they actually adapt Geography club, which actually also has stage play adaption in real life. Gareth and Chase are even closely inspired by the relationship of Russel and Kevin.


What do you prefer: The novel or the movie?

Edited by Zuri
Question at the end

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