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VINE VOICEon October 17, 2009
It's Jessie's sophomore year of high school, and all the wrong things in her life are changing. While her hair is still brown, straight, and boring, her friends are nearly unrecognizable as punk poseurs and her older brother has shaved off his Mohawk and traded his punk band scene for dating last year's Prom Princess. When Jessie's supposed best friend goes too far with Jessie's long-time curst, Jessie finally has enough. She decides she needs new friends. In an attempt to discover the social niche she fits into, Jessie unexpectedly finds herself hanging out with the Dungeons and Dragons crowd. Sure, Jessie has always loved math and rather enjoyed studying, but does she really want to actually be declared a nerd by adopting these role players as her new friends? Is there any way to recover from being nerdiest of them all--and does Jessie even want to?

I fell in love with Halpern's witty and utterly true to life writing in Get Well Soon and was thrilled to see it continue in the cleverly titled Into the Wild Nerd Yonder. Halpern has a talent for portraying adolescent social situations in a way most readers will be able to relate to. I couldn't believe at times how accurate Halpern was in her analysis of high school cliques, particularly the popular crowd; she includes little facts I thought no one else thought about. It also helps that Jessie is such a likable character, not only for her sense of humor and other quirky traits, but also because she has to deal with teen year crises such as best friends turning into disloyal strangers, a protective and beloved older brother going away to college soon, and confusion and self-doubt over liking and fitting in with people she used to negatively label as "nerds" and "dorks." And Halpern accomplishes all this with a sweet and laugh-out-loud hilarious story. The minor characters are somewhat less developed than they could be, but this can be easily overlooked in the bigger picture. Into the Wild Nerd Yonder is without a doubt a very enjoyable read, successful in showing the difficulty in forgetting the imaginary constructs labels are for many teens, and that life without conformity and labels is generally much sweeter.

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder is the perfect read for any teen who's ever felt underappreciated or questioned their position in whichever social clique, or just anyone looking for a funny and inspirational read to cheer them up. Readers who liked Halpern's Get Well Soon will also love Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, as will fans of The ABC's of Kissing Boys by Tina Ferraro, A Little Friendly Advice and Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian, King of the Screwups by K.L. Going, and Alive and Well in Prague, New York by Daphne Grab.
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on December 23, 2011
A rare YA book - the main character and her brother are neither hostile to each other nor engaged in self-destructive behavior, and both parents are present and supportive (in fact, Jessie, Barrett, and the Sloan parents are a welcome reprieve from the array of depressing families crowding YA fiction). Jessie's not my favorite character ever, but I like her witty, conversational voice. She's certainly a believable teenager - always wondering what others think of her superior math skills, or worried about the likely drop in her social standing if she leaves the punk "poseurettes" to befriend nerds and band geeks. And she's way too preoccupied with a guy she knows is a jerk but likes anyway.

Fortunately, none of that actually stops her from acing honors English and precalc, spending her time sewing cute skirts while her inconsiderate friends stalk older boys, or finally drifting away from said toxic friends to try new things and new people.

Also, I can relate to visiting D&D sessions and having NO idea what's going on.
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on July 28, 2015
Have you ever watched a movie or read a book with a main character that really touched a chord with you? Someone who related to you so much that you felt EXACTLY like that character? That you had virtually the same experiences as that character? This was one of those rare times where it happened to me. Of course, over the years, there's been plenty of fictional characters I've really liked and/or related to, but this was one of the few times where I actually found a character that was EXACTLY like me, in nearly every respect, to the point that I thought I was reading a book about me and not someone else.

Jessie Sloan is something of a "plain Jane" at her school, who has a talent for both math and sewing, and makes her own clothes to wear. She also secretly crushes on a guy that's a part of her older brother's punk rock band. But when she starts 10th grade, her social life undergoes a dramatic change. Her supportive older brother (who's leaving for college soon) quits the rock band and starts dating the school's prom queen. And at the same time, her long time friends, Bizza and Char, decide to "go punk" and latch on to wild partying and trying to get in with the "cool kids". Feeling exponentially lonely and left out, Jessie tries to make new friends, and winds up crossing paths with the "nerd herd" of the school, who play Dungeons and Dragons on the weekends. At first, Jessie agonizes over being called a nerd (despite developing a crush on one of the D&D players), but when Bizza goes after Jessie's first crush and gets burned in a truly awful way, Jessie must come to learn just who are her truly supportive friends, and that how they treat each other are more important than labels.

Too often in high school, I found myself in Jessie's exact situation; the feeling of wanting to be part of a group, but in having such different tastes, she ends up being left out and feeling lonely, even among a crowd of people. The characters, their actions, and their personalities all feel like real, believable teenagers (and not just adults in kid bodies). Jessie herself is very likeable, and her observations are both funny and touching, as she slowly comes to learn who she is as a person, while struggling to make new friends and cut ties with her old ones. It was also nice to see her have a loving, supportive family, who lets her be herself, and comes to her aid when she needs help. Too often in fiction, the main character has to have a crappy home life, and/or some kind of "issue" plaguing them, so it was a refreshing change of pace to have a nice, normal family that loves each other. The story's drama simply comes from everyday life, and while lessons are learned, the morals aren't beaten over the reader's head.

Which actually brings me to the book's strongest asset. The story could've easily become cliche', with the punk rockers made out to be the "bad guys", the popular kids being nothing but snobs, and the nerds being complete social rejects. But thankfully, the story mostly avoids those stereotypes entirely, which is kind of the point. Bizza and Char could be selfish at times, but even when they hurt Jessie, it's not intentional; they simply don't have a lot in common with her, and thankfully, they DO realize their mistakes and apologize. The girlfriend of Jessie's brother could've fallen into the "snobby airhead" trope, but we come to find she's extremely kind and smart. And the D&D fanatics are an inclusive and hilarious bunch, who DO have social lives outside of role playing, and are completely comfortable with who they are. And that ties into the entire book's theme and moral. People will most likely always be divided into various social groups (especially in school), but none of them are seen as a bad thing. What matters is not instantly judging someone by a stereotype, and being proud of and embracing who you are.

Both funny, touching, and eye opening, this is one book I would strongly recommend for parents to share with their kids, to help in teaching how to recognize good friends from toxic ones, and that labels ultimately don't matter. Word of warning, however: this story contains a good deal of swearing, as well as references to drugs and STD's. While I'm sure these are things the high school crowd is used to hearing, none the less, you might want to screen this beforehand to decide if your kids are ready for such material. (I'd recommend this for ages 13 and over.)
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on July 14, 2014
The summary of Into the Wild Nerd Yonder makes one think that this will be a touching, meaningful contemporary novel. And it should be. But the pacing is slow, and I didn't get the feels that I should have.

It's the summer before Jessie's sophomore year, and her best friends, Bizza and Char, have reinvented themselves into punk rockers. Jessie's brother is in a punk band, and although he doesn't want them to, the girls start hanging around with the band. Jessie has always had a crush on the drummer, Van.

So when Bizza goes after Van, and ends up in an intimate situation with him, Jessie is hurt, and angry, and gives up on their friendship. And, finally realizes that Van is a real jerk.

So, the second half of the book is about Jessie finding a new set of friends. She has been talking to a nerdy girl who is into Dungeons & Dragons. Since Jessie sews, she's been asked to create costumes for the D&D group. So Jessie very reluctantly goes to these D&D sessions with these nerds and finds a new set of friends and maybe even a romantic interest.

It really takes a long time for things to happen. I found the plot to be very plodding, and after reading about 50% of the book, I started skimming. It was one of those books that you could read a couple paragraphs of each chapter and know what's going on. I did read the last 10% of the book too. I think the second half was better, so I probably should have skimmed the first half.

I really didn't feel very sorry for Jessie. I don't know why. The characterizations are good, the writing is fine, but I didn't see her problems as being that dramatic.

I loved that Jessie has supportive parents and gets along with her brother. I loved that Jessie listens to audiobooks and the references to the books she was listening to. I loved that Jessie sews, since that is one of my hobbies. So, why didn't I love this book?

The age group for which Into the Wild Nerd Yonder is intended may enjoy this one more than I did. I try to put myself inside my "teenager mind" when I'm reading, but sometimes it's difficult.
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on July 25, 2012
This has been lurking around in my to-read list, but after meeting the author and discussing the different editions of Dungeons and Dragons with her, I had to bump it up to the top. I'm decidedly outside this book's target audience, but ended up relating to it anyway.

The most interesting thing about this story is its determination to blend a surprisingly accurate portrayal of playing D&D with a fairly standard "affluent teen girl has affluent teen girl problems" romantic comedy. These are two audiences that one wouldn't think would intersect all that often, but that seems to be the point of this book. Jessie Sloan is the quirky and interesting girl that has never had to really stop and consider how quirky and interesting she is, due to the conventional popularity of her big brother and circle of friends. When everybody shifts their social colors without her, though, she finds herself alone and insecure. If she can get past her first bonafide identity crisis, she might find true kinship where she would have never thought to look: among the kids that dress funny, act oddly, and spend their free time rolling characters and creating campaigns.

This is not a book to read if you are looking for a deep examination of teen angst, or an earth-shattering romance. This book maintains a very light-hearted tone, and even the more mature moments that deal with sexuality are handled with a casual touch that is, ultimately, quite realistic (since adults do a lot more hand-wringing over that kind of stuff than teens themselves do, like it or not).

I think the reason I got so caught up in reading this despite not being particularly interested in the romantic travails of a teenage girl is that the characters feel fleshed out and alive. Jessie is delightfully awkward, and her relationships with her brother and parents are sweet and believable. The antagonists are not archetypes, but simply the villains a lot of us remember from our own high school days: "friends" who aren't mature enough to realize how crappy and selfish they're being. Best of all, the nerdy kids are actual people. They aren't Comic Book Guy caricatures, and they aren't "geek chic" models that are tarted up with a few gaming references. They are exactly as I remember me and my friends being: occasionally awkward or immature, and in dire need of advice when it comes to wearing clothes that fit properly, but otherwise normal and generally nicer and more accepting than a lot of their peers. Most importantly, they are unashamed of their interests, and seem to really enjoy themselves. Most of the book chronicles Jessie's attempt to understand this attitude and reconcile it with the lessons learned from years of hanging out with the cool kids, and this is what drew me in. Well, that, and the fact that I started reading this around the same time I was preparing to run my first D&D game, which probably put me in the right frame of mind.

I suppose there are a number of things I could seek out to take issue with, but I don't really want to bother. I enjoyed this book from cover to cover for what it was, and would recommend it to anyone who is in the mood for a light-hearted YA romance. Be warned that you'll get a crash course in Dungeons & Dragons and live action role-playing in the bargain, but I promise it isn't too nerdy for you non-nerds to handle.
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on March 29, 2011
This book was an adorable story about a teenager, Jess, finding out who she is in the social crapshoot that is high school. Jess makes her own crazy skirts and listens to audio books all the time. Her friends want to hang out and try to impress her older brother and his band. Her friends are changing in ways that she isn't. Then, of course, Jess starts falling for a boy. This boy might be a nerd. He might be really into Dungeons and Dragons. Jess knows that this isn't socially cool in any way. She also knows that it is kinda fun. The story is about her finding herself, deciding what she likes, and figuring out if "cool" even matters. There was some language and sex reference, but even that seemed cute. I pretty much smiled the whole way through this book and it is now one of my favorite books ever.
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on April 16, 2013
Despite being an adult (in physical age at least, if not exactly at heart), I find myself wandering to the Young Adult aisle all too often when looking for a book to read. This is mostly because a lot of adult-oriented fiction seems to revolve around the same handful of plots, while YA authors feel free to get more creative and experimental when they write. Often, however, this means putting up with quite a bit of teenage angst and drama, as a lot of authors fall into the trap of thinking every YA book needs to deal with "issues" instead of focusing on a good story or compelling characters. And oftentimes one wonders if the authors in question even remember being teenagers themselves, as their characters are unbelievable or simply adults in younger bodies.

"Into the Wild Nerd Yonder" is a refreshing break from "teen-angst," focused more on its story and characters than on any particular issue. And even better, its teenage characters actually act like teenagers.

Jessie Sloan is starting her sophomore year of high school with plenty of reservations. Her best friends, Bizza and Char, have practically abandoned her in order to latch onto the "punk" clique at school, and Bizza in particular is not above using Jessie to get at Jessie's crush. Her older brother, a punk-rocker himself and once her closest confidant, has shaved his Mohawk and started dating the prom queen, and will soon be headed off to college. Feeling friendless and looking for some kind of support group, Jessie ends up talking to Dottie, a weird but feisty and intelligent girl in study hall who invites her to play Dungeons and Dragons with her friends. Jessie balks at first, worried about becoming a nerd herself, but when Bizza goes too far with her antics and gets burned -- and a nerdy guy from Dottie's D&D group catches Jessie's eye -- she has to decide whether it's better to remain with toxic but cool friends, or start fresh and befriend Dottie's group even if it means being labeled as one of them.

Halpern tells Jessie's story strictly from her point of view, and it's an enjoyable POV. Jessie is smart, feisty, and surprisingly mature for her age, with a fierce wit and believable dreams, worries, and fears. She's comfortable as herself, something of a bookworm and preferring to sew her own skirts over partying. She has a good rapport with her parents, and her relationship with her older brother is the kind of good-natured sparring that anyone with siblings can relate to. It's rather nice to have a solid, supportive family in a YA novel, without some kind of darker issue plaguing them.

By far the strongest aspect of this book is that Halpern writes the world of a teenager realistically -- this is the kind of world that a high schooler recognizes and can relate to. The desire to find someplace to belong, the various social cliques and their different members, the antics and social lives of teens... all feel real and well-handled. And while Halpern doesn't shy away from some of the issues that plague teens today (underage drinking, sex, STDs, etc.), neither does she beat the reader over the head with them. And it's nice to see a book that treats role-playing games in a favorable light, instead of vilifying them (I'm looking at you, "Mazes and Monsters") or treating those who play them as social rejects.

Warning to parents and teachers -- this book contains explicit language and discusses oral sex and STDs. While it's probably nothing a teenager doesn't hear on a daily basis at school anyhow, it's still worth mentioning, and parents might want to consider whether they think their child is mature enough to handle this content.

A fun and believable read, with characters teens can relate to and a spunky, atypical lead character. Recommended for ages 14 and up due to language and references to sex.
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VINE VOICEon November 20, 2009
I loved this book because the voice was very realistic. A smart kid who is struggling to find herself yet is not really deluded by the shenanigans of others around her. A couple of friends who show their true colors as users. A family that loves each other and talks to each other, and kids who are trustworthy and trusted by their parents. We often get so wrapped up in our dysfunctions as a society we forget that normalcy is really out there, lol! And this book was refreshing to me because it showed me a slice of that.

I loved how our protagonist is in a caring family with realistic interactions. I was strongly reminded of my own experiences growing up--especially the older brother with whom she gets along so incredibly well. All too often, it seems to me, YA books portray siblings as adversarial and snarky, when my personal experience and observations have been that most families have a strong bond and care about each other. So this story is a refreshing one.

The one quibble some might have is that there is a bit of cussing in this book. I consider this book only mildly blue-tinted in comparison to actual teen speak; but I felt the language worth a mention for some others who are particular in that regard.

A fast read, and an enjoyable and heartwarming one!
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on April 3, 2011
Jessie is a loyal friend, far too loyal since her best friends Bizza and Char have been using and abusing her for years. When Bizza throws herself at Jessie's long-time crush, Van, Jessie comes to the realization that she needs to move on to new friends. Jessie is already an unusual young woman--she sews her own skirts using patterns from DC Comics and Sesame Street. She's confused as she spirals into nerddom by hanging out with band geeks and Dungeons & Dragons players. She's unsure about joining a nerdy clique, completely turning her back on Bizza, and mooning over a cute nerd named Henry. This novel is funny and adorable. I loved Halpern's previous novel Get Well Soon, and Into the Wild Nerd Yonder didn't disappoint.
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on February 5, 2015
Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, by Julie Halpern, tells the story of a sophomore girl named Jessie who sews a brand new skirt for each day of high school. When her best friends turn punk and treat her like crap, Jessie has a big decision to make: should she become friends with band nerds and the kids who play Dungeons and Dragons, or should she hold onto being cool?

The best part of Into the Wild Nerd Yonder was the relationship between Jessie and her brother Barrett. You've heard of book-boyfriends? Well, Barrett is the ultimate book-big-brother. He picks Jessie up from parties gone wrong, he gives her good advice, and he plays interference with mom and dad. The dialogue between Jessie and Barrett is especially hilarious. I'll never be able to look at Krispy Kreme donuts the same way again.

The only issue I had with this book was my own "willing suspension of disbelief." It was hard for me to believe any girl who wore a homemade Elmo skirt to school could possibly think she was higher on the social totem pole than kids from the band. The skirt thing really threw me off, because it was so weird.

But...I would definitely recommend this book to YA fans because it was hilarious. Plus, I finally understand D&D!
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