Summary - It's Jessie's sophomore year of high school. A self-professed "mathlete," she isn't sure where she belongs. Her two best friends have transformed themselves into punks and one of them is going after her longtime crush. Her beloved older brother will soon leave for college (and in the meantime has shaved off his mohawk and started dating...the prom Princess!)...
Things are changing fast. Jessie needs new friends. And her quest is a hilarious tour through high school clique-dom, with a surprising stop along the way--the Dungeons and Dragons crowd, who out-nerd everyone. Will hanging out with them make her a nerd, too? And could she really be crushing on a guy with too-short pants and too-white gym shoes?
If you go into the wild nerd yonder, can you ever come back?
Review - As someone who used a Chupa-Chup tin as a pencil case in year 12, I am fully aware of the need to be different without falling into the nerd category. Unfortunately, I am not positive I was all that successful. Unfortunately again, I was never introduced to Dungeons and Dragons by an awesome group of self-possessed, groovy nerds either. I never sewed original skirts or excelled at maths but I did struggle over my friendships and whether or not the angst was worth it.
Halpern makes this exploration of nerdom and evolving friendships a fun read. She has an easy, light style that translates well as the consciousness of a teen girl in turmoil over the big issues. Jessie is a relatable protagonist who's comfortable in who she is but not so much with who she's surrounded by. Her long term friends have turned into clingy, boy crazed, selfish space wasters and she's not so sure that she likes them anymore. Jessie's struggles with the abysmal Bizza were understandable but greatly frustrating as a reader. We've all had friends we've hung onto far too long because of our need to retain the familiar. It's much easier being the objective reader than the authentic conflicted protagonist that Halpern has presented us with.
The novel is just plain old fun. The nerds are delightfully random, even if you discount the D&D. They are comfortable being themselves, they aren't the socially inept messes that we often see on screen. They are warm, just like Jessie and as such Into the Wild Nerd Yonder is a warm, entertaining read. I particularly liked the use of the sibling relationship throughout. It wasn't a cliched relationship, Jessie and her brother are tight. Barrett's transformation into something more socially acceptable is an element of the book that I really enjoyed. His family wholeheartedly supported his mohawk and band and yet supported him in his new direction too. His reasons are completely individual and his strong sense of self positively affected his sister in some of her tough decisions. It was also great to see a family without obvious dysfunctions, they were a little bizarre (aren't we all?) but realistically supportive of each other in their pursuits. It was a great touch in am industry often filled with death, divorce and demonic activity.
The romance is nice, the boy scrummy but ultimately this is about accepting change. Being brave in declaring yourself openly to the world, shucking those that hold you back or weigh you down and embracing the new. Miraculously it's all achieved with a great sense of humour and a firm handle on what teens are like today.
Jessie is a great girl to get to know and Halpern's voice is one that I look forward to revisiting.
Published: September 29, 2009
Format: Paperback, 256 pages
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
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