Into the Wild Nerd Yonder

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder

4.5 24
by Julie Halpern

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Punks, Poseurs, and Pervs—Just Another Day at High School

Jessie is so excited to start her sophomore year of high school, with her carefully planned outfits and her ample stash of school supplies. But things take an unexpected turn when everyone in her life changes. Her two best friends have gone poseur-punk and are both flirting with her longtime

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Punks, Poseurs, and Pervs—Just Another Day at High School

Jessie is so excited to start her sophomore year of high school, with her carefully planned outfits and her ample stash of school supplies. But things take an unexpected turn when everyone in her life changes. Her two best friends have gone poseur-punk and are both flirting with her longtime crush. Her beloved older brother is about to go off to college—and he shaved his Mohawk and started dating the homecoming queen. Jessie is suddenly clique-less. When she starts chatting up a girl in homeroom, she's surprised by an invite to join the Dungeons and Dragons crowd! Will hanging out with them make her a nerd? And when she sees how cute one of their members is, does it really matter?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The relationships and dialogue ring true; readers navigating the stratified social structures of high school will relish an ending that celebrates true friendship.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Readers will both identify with and like Jessie and will cheer her conversion from meek to outspoken.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Reinvention is rarely so delightfully nerdy.” —Booklist

“This novel is particularly strong in showing how teen friendships evolve and sometimes die away, and how adolescents redefine themselves.” —School Library Journal

“Witty” —Horn Book Review

“. . . funny, easygoing prose . . . an appealingly comic cousin of Carolyn Mackler's The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.” —Kirkus on Get Well Soon

“I completely fell in love with Anna Bloom's voice--it's wry, romantic, and so, so true.” —Gabrielle Zevin, author of Elsewhere on Get Well Soon

“Engaging . . . real . . . refreshing, and natural, and the descriptions of the situations are hilarious!” — on Get Well Soon

“This book is hilarious, refreshing, honest and AWESOME!” —Elise, age 14 on Get Well Soon

“Witty, sarcastic, and drop-dead hilarious . . . this book made me laugh the most out of any book I have EVER read.” —Jason, age 14 on Get Well Soon

Publishers Weekly
Sophomore Jessie Sloan is having a bad year. Her two closest friends are turning punk and boy-crazed; one of them even pursues Jessie's longtime crush. To make matters worse, Jessie's beloved older brother will soon be leaving for college. Jessie feels adrift and spends her time sewing skirts and listening to audiobooks. Halpern's (Get Well Soon) story picks up pace when class nerd Dottie introduces Jessie to Dungeons and Dragons, which Jessie (to her surprise) actually enjoys, leading her to a new group of friends as well as a heartfelt, if a little clichéd, crush on a cute boy with his own nerdish tendencies. Jessie is a thoughtful, sympathetic narrator (“How is it that someone becomes a dork?... What makes some people like punk music and Denny's and other people like costumes and Dungeons and Dragons?”), and her fresh voice will reveal to readers just how independent and exceptional she is (even when Jessie can't see it herself). The relationships and dialogue ring true; readers navigating the stratified social structures of high school will relish an ending that celebrates true friendship. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)\
Children's Literature - Annie Laura Smith
Growing up requires changes. Jessie discovers this when her two best long-time friends take a path she does not want to follow, and she needs to find new friends. What is the world of a wild nerd? Jessie finds this out as she navigates through the cliques in her high school and wonders if being friends with players of "Dungeons & Dragons" will make her a nerd, too. Halpern captures the teen dialogue well and understands the social structure of high school, a fact that adolescent readers will appreciate. This book provides a detailed look at how: adolescents identify themselves, make and lose friends; and, sometimes, even re-invent themselves. It is a witty approach to their world as shown through Jessie's narration. This is a revealing read with a life lesson for girls who doubt themselves and can no longer depend on long-term friends. Romance and humor move the story along as Jessie tries to find her way. Readers will cheer her on as she tries to find true friendship again. The sexual content, however, would not be suitable for younger readers of the targeted age group. Reviewer: Annie Laura Smith
School Library Journal
Gr 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
Kirkus Reviews
Fifteen-year-old Jessie develops the self-confidence to dump her selfish friends and ventures into unfamiliar territory to find new ones in this often hilarious, quirky work of contemporary realism. When her two best friends turn poseur-punk to impress her brother's friend Van, Jessie is left wondering where she, a math star, audiobook addict and accomplished seamstress, fits in. As their rift deepens, Jessie discovers that a group of Dungeons & Dragons-playing peers are not as socially inept as she once might have thought and loses herself in a crush on a sweet, if fashion-challenged, guy at school. The overarching message about being oneself and growing apart from friends is familiar teen-novel territory, and there is never any real doubt as to the end of Jessie's journey. However, her narrative voice is unusually honest, and the at times bawdy dialogue is realistic and bitingly funny: "Those two chodes deserve each other. I hope the STDs flow." Readers will both identify with and like Jessie and will cheer her conversion from meek to outspoken. (Fiction. 14 & up)

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Product Details

Square Fish
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)
890L (what's this?)
Age Range:
13 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

I SO USED TO LOVE THE FIRST DAY of school. Ever since my mom let me pick out my first pair of first-day-of-school navy Mary Janes with the fl ower pattern puckered into the top, I knew I’d like the newness, yet revel in the sameness that the fi rst day of school always brings. New pens I’ll lose after fi rst period, new schedules with the promise of a cool new teacher or intriguing new exchange student, and new classes to ace. Not in a braggy, nerdy way, just in an I’m-smart-and-I-kind-of- ike-to-study way. It’s not as though school defi nes me. Although, I guess I don’t really know what defines me. Yet. Not like my best friends, Bizza and Char. Would it be lame to say that they define me?

Elizabeth Ann Brickman, or Bizza as she’s been called since birth. (So I ask you: Why not just name her Bizza? I guess for the same reason my parents named me Jessica but call me Jessie. It’s not really the same thing, though. Jessie’s a pretty common name for an equally common girl. Unlike Bizza, uncommon in every way. Maybe that’s why her mom decided to dub her only child Bizza, like how famous people name their kids after fruits and various other random unnamelike nouns— guaranteed un- anonymity.) Is it a name that lets someone know they’re going to be different? Is it her name that makes her cocky and clever, weird but cool, funny but scary at the same time? Can a name do all of that? Or is it that everyone at Greenville High School knows Bizza because Bizza makes herself be known? If I truly wanted to, could I become infamous, too?

Not that I want to, but could I?

And then there’s my other best friend, Char, who doesn’t seem to have to try at all. Full name: Charlotte Antonia Phillips, every bit as gorgeous as her name implies, thin, but not skinny, tall, but not imposing, and hair so thick you could use it for climbing when in distress. If she were pop u lar in the traditional high school use of the word she would be head cheerleader or prom queen or, I don’t know, what ever else it is those “pop u lar” people aspire to become. (Why are they referred to as “popular” anyway? That would suggest that everyone likes them, which is virtually impossible since popular people are notorious for treating the commoners like crap.) But popularity among the masses has never been anything that Bizza, Char, or I have aspired to. Which is why we’ve always been such great friends.

It started in first grade when the three of us convinced our teacher that the other students’ lives would be empty without our fabulous lip-synching rendition of the movie Grease, so we gathered up any first graders willing to dance in front of people (amazing how it was so easy back then to find boys who weren’t ashamed to dance) and any girl who was fine being relegated to one of the random, nameless Pink Ladies in the background. Bizza mouthed Rizzo’s parts, Char mouthed Sandy’s, and I was usually the Twinkie-loving Pink Lady Jan. At least my Pink Lady had a name, right?

Bizza, Char, and I have always had this fantastic creative energy, and a lot of funky things were born out of our friendship. In seventh grade we filmed one episode of a soap opera we created called Mucho Love (based on the telenovellas our Spanish teacher, Sen˜ora Goldberg, showed us in class). The soap was so funny, we actually got it aired on cable access (although I think cable access channels are legally required to air anything anyone sends them). Of course, Mucho Love wouldn’t have been nearly as good if Bizza and Char hadn’t convinced all of the hotties on the block to play the studly male leads. But that’s why we work(ed) so well together: I bring the brains, they bring the brawn.

In eighth grade we started a band, The Chakras (Char thought it sounded “mystical”), and we all took up instruments. Bizza was, of course, the lead singer (without a care in the world that her voice sounded like the cries of a llama taking a particularly painful dump) and guitarist (her guitar playing wasn’t much better than her singing). Char was the statuesque (and statuelike, since the only things she moved were her fingers) bass player. (“Chicks are always bass players,” was her reasoning. My response: “Um, aren’t we all chicks?”) And I was the drummer, pounding away in the background. I didn’t actually mind, since I was playing on Van Davis’s drum kit. (Sigh.) And I’m pretty good. I think it goes along with my crazy math abilities. Sadly, The Chakas broke up after Bizza and Char decided that it was more interesting telling people we were in a band than actually practicing. They still tell people we’re in a band. “But we’re on hiatus.” Bizza’s words.

Now that we’re in high school, being friends with Bizza and Char means I get invited to parties by the likes of Gina Betancourt and can experience fi rsthand what it’s like to watch drunk people puke. It also means that at any of said parties, I practically don’t even have to get dressed or fi x my hair (not that it would matter anyway, since there is nothing I can do to perkify its straight brown blahness) because no one notices me anyway in Bizza’s or Char’s presence. Which I consider a good thing, most of the time.

But things are starting to change.

Last year, freshman year, I had the genius plan to start a sewing business. My mom has always made funny clothes for me, mainly for Halloween, but sometimes for other festive occasions (I look back fondly on my Arbor Day beret), and she taught me to sew last summer. My idea was to create simple, A-line skirts using a basic sewing pattern, but making them out of all of the hilarious fabrics they sell at fabric stores. It’s insane what the bizarro fabric creators come up with (whose job is that anyway?): Jelly bean fabric. Prairie dog fabric. Coffee lover’s fabric. They even have fabric for hunters: deer awaiting tragic death as they hang out in the woods. What kind of hunter would wear that pattern? Maybe hunters’ wives like to make their hunter husbands little hunter pajamas. How quaint.

I thought the skirt thing was an obvious great idea, and Bizza and Char humored me for all of two days. Then they decided it was just “too home ec,” and they’d rather hang out at the local Denny’s. Denny’s is where my brother, Barrett (two years older, completely adorable, the only boy at school with an orange mohawk), and his freakster friends hang out, drink coffee, and smoke (not Barrett, though, who believes, and I quote, “I’d rather my mouth tasted like the zebra-y goodness of Fruit Stripe gum than of someone’s ass”). Barrett took me to Denny’s a few times last year, trying to be all big brotherly, but it wasn’t really my scene. His friends, for the most part, are pretty nice to me. Instead of looking through me (like the people at Gina Betancourt’s party), they usually try to include me in their conversations. But their conversations are about music ninety- nine percent of the time, and I don’t care enough about the Scrapheaps or the Turdmunchers or the Firepoos (I may have some of the names incorrect, due to my entire lack of interest) to converse about them. Ironically, I have filled in for the drummer (the aforementioned and insanely gorgeous Van) of Barrett’s band, the Crudhoppers, during several practices, but I don’t really listen to the music we’re playing. That may sound impossible, but I’m so busy counting and trying to keep up the punk- fast pace that I don’t really have the option of listening. 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.

I glaze over the Crudhoppers’ Denny’s conversations and try to hold in my coughs as Van and Pete Mosely puff smoke rings and stank up my clothes. Bizza and Char, however, think the Denny’s smoking section is the absolute of cool and berate me every time I fail to invite them when Barrett drags me along. (I also fail to mention to them that after Barrett invites me, he says, “Jessie, why don’t you leave the two poseurettes at home to night.” Part of me feels guilty because I know they want to be there, but part of me thinks I deserve to be the attention girl, even if it is covered in a cloud of smoke.)

The worlds of the poseurettes and the freaksters collided this summer when Bizza decided that a nightly hang at Denny’s was a must. Gaggingly, she even picked up the classy habit of smoking because “it’s the only way we’ll look cool sitting in the smoking section.” Char bought a pack of clove cigarettes, claiming they tasted good, to which I ask why doesn’t she just go suck on a clove so I don’t have to inhale her perfumed secondhand smoke? Not to mention the damage it can do to my skirts. Even though Bizza and Char would rather make holes in their lungs (and mine) than make skirts, I am still way into the sewing. My goal is to sew enough skirts this summer to have a different skirt for every day of the school year. So far I have over seventy skirts (including skirts I started last summer, but not including the fi fteen or so I made and sold at our school’s summer craft fair). Bizza and Char have been too busy trying to infi ltrate Barrett’s crew to notice. The final month of summer became a smoky Denny’s extravaganza. The ’Hoppers were there almost every night, and since Bizza had made her mind up, we were there every night, too. Such a bummer because the end of summer is usually so amazing. Yeah, the back-to-school sales are unbelievable, but there’s also something about the August air that’s the perfect blend of summer and fall. It’s so warm and wonderful. Bizza, Char, and I have spent every August since forever together in Bizza’s backyard “tree house” (a floor of wood shoved into the top of her weeping willow tree) looking up at the sky and playing Would You Rather? Now I play Would You Rather? in my head every night we’re at Denny’s:

Would I rather

a) Be in the Denny’s smoking section
b) Eat a live turtle, shell included
c) Lick a turkey’s ass

Yeah. Tough call these days.

I have always held a mix of admiration and embarrassment for Bizza. It’s amazing how she gets people to pay attention to her, something I could never do, and how she thinks she is so good at everything. Even when she sucks (as in her singer/guitarist days), she thinks she’s a star. When she gets a seventy-five on a test, she thinks it’s because the teacher doesn’t know how to teach. And when a guy doesn’t like her (god forbid), he’s obviously gay. And on one dark and smoky night when Barrett drove the three of us to Denny’s, she somehow managed to convince him that it would be acceptable to let us join the Crudhoppers’ table. When we arrived at the smoky booth, Bizza gestured to me with her eyes as though I was supposed to introduce, or maybe even announce, her.

“Um, hey, guys.” I tried to sound casual.

“Hey, Jessie.” Van smiled. I always wondered if the reason Van was nice to me was because Barrett told him that I’d had a major crush on him since sixth grade. I had been borderline crushing on him for a while, as younger sisters do on their brother’s friends, but then I had this über- romantic dream about him, which changed the status from borderline to obsessed. Van has this amazing smile, a freaky cool crooked nose, and dark hair that looks so perfectly imperfect. “Who are your friends?” Van asked, smacking me back into the reality that almost anyone is more interesting than me.

“This is Bizza. This is Char.” The guys smiled and nodded as the girls charmed their way into the squished booth. I pulled up a chair. Coffees were ordered (loaded with cream and sugar), cancer sticks were puff ed, and conversation followed the usual, musical route, but with many vapid Bizza interjections:

“That new Smokin’ Chokes CD is shit. Why’d they replace Emery Gladen?” A ’Hopper mused.

“I love the new color of your hair, Van. How do you get it to stay so black?” Bizza blathered. This could have bothered me more, except any conversation between Bizza and a guy sounds flirty. Kind of annoying, but meaningless and completely the norm.

“We gotta get ready for our show at the Interoom. Our new songs aren’t tight enough,” a ’Hopper suggested.

“Did you get those shoes at Nordstrom, Eric? I totally saw them there. I almost got the same ones,” Bizza noted importantly.

Each summer night was fi lled with identically inane conversations. All I wanted to do was stay home and sew, and look forward to the joyous day that I’d go back to school and homework and all of the smart- girl excuses I get to use so as not to waste my life at Denny’s every night. I frequently tried telling Bizza that I had some sewing I wanted to fi nish this summer, but she would just say something like, “What ever, Holly Hobby, you can sew later. We’ll miss you if you’re not with us,” which made me feel simultaneously good and bad. Bizza is an expert at that.

So my final nights of summer were wasted with mediocrity and cigarettes. Barrett drove us to Denny’s, Bizza acted like Bizza, and, as usual, her magical Bizzabilities charmed the pants off of them. Not literally, of course. The conversations turned away from music and moved to food, TV, movies— anything that Bizza deemed worthy of chatter. As the days went by, my skirts got smokier, and the weeping willow tree house got lonelier. Thank god, the summer is just about over.

Yeah, I used to like the fi rst day of school. Until my best friends decided to turn punk.

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Meet the Author

Julie Halpern is the author of Get Well Soon and Don't Stop Now, as well as the picture book Toby and the Snowflakes. In addition to writing, Julie is a middle-school librarian. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, lived in Australia for six months, and created a couple of zines before she started writing books, and realized she was and always has been a writer. She is married to the artist Matthew Cordell, and they live outside Chicago with their daughter and gloriously large Siamese cat, Tobin.

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Into the Wild Nerd Yonder 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Jessie doesn't know where she belongs in high school anymore. Her best friends have turned into overnight punks. Her punk rock brother is dating the prom princess. In a quest to find new friends, Jessie stumbles upon the Dungeons and Dragons crowd. But if she ventures into the wild nerd yonder, can she ever come back? I love Julie Halpern - she writes with so much humor and heart that it makes for a great read. As a fellow nerd, I adored Jessie's journey to the nerd side. Granted, Jessie was never a super-popular girl herself. She claims to be a mathlete and her hobby is sewing various skirts made from fun themed fabric. (I wish I could sew just to do that, too!) But Jessie knows the D&D crowd is a new level of nerd and she doesn't know if she's ready to go there. Aside from the nerd storyline, there's also a great storyline about what makes a true friend. And we all know friendships don't suddenly become easier because you get older. Honestly, I hated Bizza (one of Jessie's punk-turned-best friends). She was an uber jerk, but like many people in that situation, Jessie didn't see it. I was cheering her on the whole way to stand up for herself. What I liked most about this book is that the nerds aren't all that nerdy. Sure, Jessie's embarrassed about the D&D crowd, but when you get down to it, they're just normal people having fun with a hobby they enjoy. After finishing this one, I told my husband I need to nerd it up more. (Not sure how to do that really, since I'm pretty nerdy already.) But INTO THE WILD NERD YONDER made me miss my nerdy high school days of gushing over Star Trek and The X-Files and writing fan fiction (and yes, acting out our fan fiction in my friend's basement). I even have an interest in giving Dungeons and Dragons a try sometime! Nerd or not, I think anyone who has ever tried to break into a new clique or struggled with friendship will enjoy INTO THE WILD NERD YONDER. Plus, there's some nerdy love that's so super cute!!
MaisieD More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book! The characters were real, and they had real problems. In this world of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts (oh my!), this was definitely refreshing! Jessie, like many teens, is trying to figure out who she is, and the friends that she has had since forever, are changing (for the VERY worst!). She starts hanging out with the Dungeons and Dragons crowd (even though she is embarrassed at first). She soon becomes comfortable with herself. I also enjoyed the fact that she had an AMAZING relationship with her older brother and her parents. Throughout the book, she was having a hard time dealing with the fact that her brother would be going off to college the next year.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great YA book!  Even though I am an adult, I remember that high school friendships can be difficult.  This story is one I would recommend to a friend and I definitely want my kids to read when they are old enough!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read , i laughed to this relatable tale . Great storytelling
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I enjoyed this book, it had a strongly written female character who was charming and a new fresh plot overall. Though it was predictable, and instead of having a strong end and a good start it had a strong start and weak end which didn't make a ladting impresssion. I would recommend this book if you wanted a light and quick read.
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Thomas Grieve More than 1 year ago
Very different book... very refreshing
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