Word Nerd

Word Nerd

3.8 10
by Susin Nielsen

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Twelve-year-old Ambrose is a glass-half-full kind of guy. A self-described “friendless nerd,” he moves from place to place every couple of years with his overprotective mother, Irene. When some bullies at his new school almost kill him by slipping a peanut into his sandwich — even though they know he has a deathly allergy — Ambrose is…  See more details below


Twelve-year-old Ambrose is a glass-half-full kind of guy. A self-described “friendless nerd,” he moves from place to place every couple of years with his overprotective mother, Irene. When some bullies at his new school almost kill him by slipping a peanut into his sandwich — even though they know he has a deathly allergy — Ambrose is philosophical. Irene, however, is not and decides that Ambrose will be home-schooled.

Alone in the evenings when Irene goes to work, Ambrose pesters Cosmo, the twenty-five-year-old son of the Greek landlords who live upstairs. Cosmo has just been released from jail for breaking and entering to support a drug habit. Quite by accident, Ambrose discovers that they share a love of Scrabble and coerces Cosmo into taking him to the West Side Scrabble Club, where Cosmo falls for Amanda, the club director. Posing as Ambrose’s Big Brother to impress her, Cosmo is motivated to take Ambrose to the weekly meetings and to give him lessons in self-defense. Cosmo, Amanda, and Ambrose soon form an unlikely alliance and, for the first time in his life, Ambrose blossoms. The characters at the Scrabble Club come to embrace Ambrose for who he is and for their shared love of words. There’s only one problem: Irene has no idea what Ambrose is up to.

In this brilliantly observed novel, author Susin Nielsen transports the reader to the world of competitive Scrabble as seen from the honest yet funny viewpoint of a boy who’s searching for acceptance and for a place to call home.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
If you want a first line that grabs the reader instantly, try this: "The day I almost died, the sky was a bright, brilliant blue." And how does twelve-year-old Ambrose almost die? A trio of school bullies plays a cruel prank involving his peanut addiction. Ambrose imagines the subsequent newspaper headline: "FRIENDLESS NERD KILLED BY PEANUT." It is hardly a scenario to make his neurotically overprotective mother relax her vigilance—nor is his growing friendship with their landlords' son Cosmo, an ex-con struggling to get over his drug addiction. Ambrose and Cosmo are both saved by an unlikely rescuer: the West Side Scrabble Club. Ambrose finds respect and camaraderie with his fellow "word nerds" and misfits, while Cosmo pursues the redeeming love of the club's attractive organizer. It all comes right in the end, give or take some pathological and escalating lies, drug dealers' schemes for violent revenge, and one desperate and doomed attempt at running away. Nielsen delivers a tour de force of a ‘tween novel, complete with page-turning, heart-in-your-throat suspense, a cast of delightfully individuated and appealingly eccentric characters and, most of all, Ambrose's utterly distinct, wry, wise, naive, and altogether hilarious voice. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
School Library Journal

Gr 5-7

Twelve-year-old Ambrose Bukowski and his widowed, overprotective mother, an adjunct professor, move frequently. When he almost dies after he bites into a peanut that bullies put in his sandwich, just to see if he is really allergic, Irene has had enough, and she decides to homeschool him. While she teaches at night, Ambrose gets to know 25-year-old-Cosmo, recently released from jail and the son of the Bukowskis' warmhearted Greek landlords who live upstairs. Ambrose discovers that he and his neighbor both love Scrabble, so, without his mother's knowledge, he talks Cosmo into taking him to a Scrabble Club. For the first time, Ambrose has a friend, but when his mother finds out, she starts packing up to move again to get him away from the ex-con. This prompts Ambrose to run away, determined to get his mother to listen to him. Ambrose is a neat kid who is comfortable in his own skin, despite always being an outsider. Cosmo knows he made some wrong choices, but he is regretful, as well as caring and thoughtful, and a great morale booster for Ambrose. This is a tender, often funny story with some really interesting characters. It will appeal to word nerds, but even more to anyone who has ever longed for acceptance or had to fight unreasonable parental restrictions.-Shannon Seglin, Patrick Henry Library, Vienna, VA

From the Publisher
“This is a tender, often funny story with some really interesting characters. It will appeal to word nerds, but even more to anyone who has ever longed for acceptance or had to fight unreasonable parental restrictions.”
Starred Review from School Library Journal

“…a beautifully drawn character…. [a] funny, wry tale, a tale that involves a lot of Scrabble (at the championship level), the reformation of an ex-con/druggie and the coming-into-himself of a boy. And there’s a bit of love, too, actually.”
The Globe and Mail

VOYA - Mary Boutet
This could have been a great book. Ambrose is a believable, adorable character with a lot of insight to share. However, he also only sees Amanda, the woman who teaches him valuable lessons about kindness and Scrabble, for her nice boobs. He makes fun of Joan because she's fat, and therefore unattractive. Every really good scene—and there were plenty —was spoiled by a sexist comment. I felt angry with the author for ruining such a good story. While I really want to give this book a glowing review, I don't think the prevailing sexism is a small enough issue to overlook. Reviewer: Mary Boutet, Teen Reviewer
VOYA - Alissa Lauzon
The fact that twelve-year-old Ambrose is obnoxiously too smart for his own good, combined with his neurotically overprotective mother and their constant relocation from city to city every couple of years, do little to help his friendless nerd status. After three bullies decide to test Ambrose's claims of a deadly peanut allergy by hiding a peanut in his sandwich and nearly killing him, his mother decides that he will finish his education via a correspondence school. Ambrose grows bored alone in the evenings while his mother works and seeks entertainment by trying to find out more about his landlord's son, Cosmo, who was just released from prison. Ambrose convinces Cosmo to take him to the weekly West Side Scrabble Club meetings, where the two bond and find the beginnings of a friendship. Everyone knows a kid like Ambrose—socially unaware and too smart for his own good—and readers cannot help but feel a bit sorry for him at first. After a couple of chapters, however, readers will be frustrated by his obnoxiousness and insensitivity. Nielsen's coming-of-age story has a familiar plot, and Ambrose's growth through the story is predictable, but she adds a few twists to keep things interesting. Though the story is humorous and charming, it will need the right audience to succeed. Reviewer: Alissa Lauzon

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Product Details

Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Gemini Award-winner Susin Nielsen got her start feeding cast and crew muffins and bologna sandwiches on the popular television series, Degrassi Junior High. They hated her food (a fact that’s memorialized forever in a poem the cast wrote: “An ode to Susin, the Bran Muffin Queen, we eat them, we die, then we turn green”). Luckily for Susin, they saw a spark in a spec script she wrote. Nielsen went on to pen sixteen episodes of the hit television show, and four of the books in the Degrassi book series. Since then, Nielsen, who has received two Canadian Screenwriter awards, has written and story-edited many TV series, including Ready or Not, Madison, The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, Edgemont, and two animated series, What About Mimi and Braceface. She co-created the pre-school series Franny’s Feet, and is the co-creator and showrunner of the critically acclaimed series Robson Arms. She also adapted author Susan Juby’s book, Alice, I Think, into a TV series. Nielsen has also published three children’s books: Hank and Fergus, winner of the Mr. Christie’s Silver Medal Award, Mormor Moves In, and The Magic Beads. She lives in Vancouver with her husband, Goran, son, Oskar, and cat, Sam.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Word Nerd 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
Imagine being twelve and not having any friends, and the highlight of your week is playing Scrabble with your mother. Welcome to the world of Ambrose, the boy who loved words but just didn’t fit him. His mother kept a short leash on him as she’s overly protective; always fearing the worse will emerge and swallow him up. Poor Ambrose, lived in a plastic bubble, his mother didn’t realize the harm she was causing her son as she believed she was just keeping him safe from the dangerous world that surrounded him. Being so sheltered and always on the move to another city, as danger crept too close to where they were, Ambrose was a target and bullied repeatedly. My heart went out to him. He had no choice but to listen to his mother as he tried to act strong when the words and the actions beat down on him when inside he was lonely and hurt. He finally gets a break when his mom signs him up for correspondence school and this action takes a dramatic change in his life. More time alone at home allows him to become a more independent person, and the idea of less lying gets swept under the rug. He’s becoming a person, he’s speaking out for himself and for once in his life he acquires a friend. Ok, it might be the friend you’d hope for but if you throw stereotypes away, you’d change your mind. As Ambrose starts to become a person, he finally likes himself and he finds worth in life and within. Sounds too perfect…. and it is. Mom, she blind to the fact of who Ambrose is becoming until it’s too late, he’s found himself and he doesn’t want to go back to the child that mom wants. The descriptions of the way Ambrose lives, I know other teens would be embarrassed yet Ambrose knew it was the best his mother could provide. All these details gave me a more complete character, a person who I truly was cheering on. He found humor in the most unusual places and he was determined to rise above, if only he could get out from under his mother’s wings. And just think, this started with a peanut.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am on the ninth chapter, and even though it doesn't start out as a bombshell book, I find myself glued to it. And I'm only 9.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is so good i love it!!!!!!!!#cant talk
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is the most amazing book I've ever read. I recommend this book to everyone who has a taste of humor and funnyness
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sounds like a good book but not a game
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great for older kids.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
****ing crapy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Funny, honest, original and a real page-turner to boot! Bonus -- got my 11 year old son interested in playing Scrabble (which has been great for his vocab and spelling) as the main characters become heavily involved in competitive Scrabble tournaments. Loved this book and loved "Dear George Clooney Please Marry My Mom" also by Susin Nielsen.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago