After seeing positive reviews of this book all over the place, I was intrigued enough to seek it out from the library. Julie Halpern's Into the Wild Nerd Yonder is a young adult novel about a girl from the social midlands who finds herself drawn to the nerd side. It's a nice contrast to the many, many books about teenage girls trying to climb UP the social ladder.
Jessie has always followed the lead of her two best friends, diva Bizza and beautiful Char. When Bizza's inconsideration finally goes too far, Jessie starts to seek out new friends, and ends up, after having plausible second thoughts, finding them in places she wouldn't have expected.
Jessie is adorable. She sees herself as ordinary, but she has a certain quirky charm. She does well in school, and is quietly proud of her A's. She's constantly listening to audiobooks. (She good taste, too - Life As We Knew It and Elsewhere are both discussed in detail.) She sews herself skirts to wear to school every day, in prints ranging from pencils to Sesame Street characters to holiday themes. She looks up to her older brother, Barrett. She kind of wishes she could go back in time to middle school, when friendships were easier to manage, while at the same time nurturing a crush on Barrett's bad-boy friend Van. While I doubt there will be a lot of readers who are exactly like Jessie, I think that many readers will be able to relate to certain things about her. Here are a couple of examples:
"It's funny how some of Barrett's friends think I'm his punky kid sister, when really I'm just some mathlete who'd rather be sewing Thanksgiving skirts in her bedroom while listening to an audiobook." (Page 6)
"...it's always easy for me to wake up on the first day of school. The excitement of new classes, seeing people who I like an everyday way but not an outside-of-school way, and organizing my locker always springs me to life. Not to mention the joy of finally getting to legitimately use all of the school supplies that I've been hoarding for weeks." (Page 12)
I'll admit it. I LOVED stationery stores when I was a teen. My Dad owned a hardware store, and I used to think how much nicer it would have been if he had a stationery store instead.
But it was this passage that really stayed with me:
"...and where does that put me on the social food chain? I have never been anywhere on it, technically. Like, if the school had to be divided into groups based on social status, it would be so easy to say to most people, "You go over there to jocks, and you go over to the dorks, and you go over to the emo kids, and the punks, and the stoners." And after all that sorting through the giant school strainer, I would be left hanging out by myself still in the strainer because I wouldn't have anywhere to go." (Page 130)
I mean, how many kids are there out there who feel like they'd be stuck in the strainer? A lot, I bet. It's nice to see a book written for them.
I did wonder a little bit about the target age range for this novel. On the one hand, Jessie has a certain innocence. I could see eleven and twelve year olds who aren't quite ready to grow up enjoying Jessie. On the other hand, there are some pretty frank discussions about Bizza's sexual exploits and their consequences, which tip the scale into making this feel like a high school book. Just consider that a head's up.
I think that Into the Wild Nerd Yonder would be a great book for mothers and daughters to read together (or both read separately and then discuss together). There are a lot of positive themes (about being independent, finding friends who value you for yourself, and not letting boys take advantage of you), conveyed in ways that never feel message-y.
All in all, I enjoyed Into the Wild Nerd Yonder. I recommend it for high school readers (girls more so than boys, I'd say, especially given the pink cover with the dress on it), and for adults who struggled with where they belonged in high school (would that be nearly everyone?). Into the Wild Nerd Yonder was a Cybils shortlist title for Young Adult Fiction (and would, I think, pair well with fellow shortlist title How to Say Goodbye in Robot). Recommended.
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: September 29, 2009
Source of Book: Library copy
Other Blog Reviews: Tuning into YA Books, MotherReader (by TeenReader), Persnickety Snark, Becky's Book Reviews, Librarilly Blonde, Shelf Elf (and doubtless others).
© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).