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Into the Wild Nerd Yonder Hardcover – September 29, 2009
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From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up—For as long as she can remember, Jess has been friends with Bizza and Char. Lately, however, she has been finding that she doesn't have as much in common with them. She has become more interested in math and sewing, while the other two girls only seem interested in partying and hanging around Jess's older brother and his punk band. On their first day of sophomore year, Jess finds that her old friends have decided to go punk. In Bizza's case, this involves shaving her head and pursuing Jess's longtime crush, punk Van, and eventually performing oral sex on him at a party (contracting gonorrhea in the process). Jess decides to move on and becomes involved with a group of Dungeons and Dragons players that includes her new romantic interest, nerdy but adorable Henry. She agonizes over being called a nerd, but comes to realize that friends and how they treat each other are more important than labels. Halpern's descriptions of high-school cliques, particularly the punk posers and the D&D fanatics, are hilarious and believable, and characters who seem to fit particular stereotypes suddenly show unexpected traits. The story's theme could easily become clichéd, but this novel is particularly strong in showing how teen friendships evolve and sometimes die away, and how adolescents redefine themselves.—Kathleen E. Gruver, Burlington County Library, Westampton, NJ END
Jess loves audiobooks, sewing skirts, and the first day of school. She even gets along with her family, including Barrett, her rock-god older brother. She is, in short, a nerd, and feels immediate dread when she starts to grow apart from her two best friends, Bizza and Char, who underwent a punk makeover to fit in with Barrett’s band. After Bizza goes after Jess’ longtime crush and winds up with an STD, Jess ends the friendship. Karma, like Bizza, can be a bitch. With no clique to hang out with, Jess is lulled into the clutches of the Dungeons & Dragons crowd—and finds herself falling for one of them! Halpern (Get Well Soon, 2007) realistically writes about teens coming to terms with their coming-of-age. Jess is anxious about embracing her inner nerdlinger, but emerges from the transformation secure in her self worth and seeking out the people who will support her. Reinvention is rarely so delightfully nerdy. Grades 9-12. --Courtney Jones
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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.)
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.
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.