You know that wonderful feeling when you get a run of books that you’ve just really enjoyed reading? Well I’ve had that feeling all this week. Apart from yesterday’s Top Book of 2016 pick, I’ve got some other great reads coming up this week that gave me a cheery glow in the very pit of my stony heart. Today’s book is one of those glow-makers. We received our copy of Word Nerd by Susan Nielsen from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Ambrose Bukowski is a twelve-year-old with a talent for mismatching his clothes, for saying the wrong thing at the worst possible time, and for words. In short, he’s a self-described nerd. Making friends is especially hard because he and his overprotective mother, Irene, have had to move so often. And when bullies at his latest school almost kill him by deliberately slipping a peanut into his sandwich to set off his allergy, it’s his mother who has the extreme reaction. From now on, Ambrose has to be home-schooled.
Then Ambrose strikes up an unlikely friendship with the landlord’s son, Cosmo, an ex-con who’s been in prison. They have nothing in common except for Scrabble. But a small deception grows out of control when Ambrose convinces a reluctant Cosmo to take him to a Scrabble club. Could this spell disaster for Ambrose?
Read it if:
*you are a kitchen scrabble player looking for ways to step into the big leagues
*you can’t go past a good “dark horse” story
*you enjoy reading about (peanut free) baklava as much as you enjoy eating it
*you’ve ever made a friend that your parents considered to be a bad influence
*you tend to judge books (read: people) by their rotund, malodorous or otherwise unflattering covers
I’ve had Word Nerd on my Book Depository wishlist – you know, that list of 1000+ books that I will buy when I win the lotto – for quite a while so when I saw it come up on Netgalley I jumped at the chance to review it. After all, how could I, a bona fide, dyed in the stone, word nerd pass up a book about word-nerdery, especially one aimed at a middle grade audience?
Clearly, I could not.
This is one of those middle grade reads that can be enjoyed by older readers mostly due to the fact that it takes place, for the most part, outside the trope-laden school setting. Ambrose is home-schooled (by the time a few chapters have passed) due mostly to his mother’s overblown anxiety about his well-being and therefore the book is free from the stereotypical child characters one might usually find in books for this age group. Instead, Word Nerd feels like a book for a grown up (or growing up) audience, as Ambrose is forced by necessity and circumstance to take a look at himself and decide what kind of person he wants to be.
The thing about this book that pleased me the most was the authenticity of the characterisation. Ambrose is a genuine rendering of a twelve (nearly thirteen) year old boy, with all the misplaced confidence, anxiety, awkwardness, and interest in pubescent issues that being a twelve (nearly thirteen) year old boy entails. The author doesn’t gloss over the grown-up issues that Ambrose is confronted with through his interactions with his upstairs neighbour, Cosmo – including, but not limited to, jail time and drug use – but neither are these gratuitously exploited. Essentially, Ambrose reads like an unfeigned interpretation of a young boy attempting to make his own choices and emerge, flaws and all, from his mother’s protective shadow.
I knocked this one over in only a few sittings because the narrative was both absorbing and undemanding, and peppered with quirky but real-seeming characters. I’d definitely recommend this for young readers of middle grade who can handle some grown-up issues, or for older readers looking for a charming and memorable pre-coming of age tale that is wordy in all the right places.
Until next time,