The process of growing up requires just that—growing and changing and sometimes becoming someone completely new and completely different. In the teen novel “Into the Wild Nerd Yonder,” author Julie Halpern explores that metamorphosis, both for the good and the bad it can bring.
Our narrator is Jessie, a sophomore in high school who faces some awkward and difficult choices. Jessie is refreshing in part because her problems arise not from her family or any personal tragedy. (So many YA books involve death or life-threatening issues these days.) Instead, she has to figure out how she wants to relate to her two oldest and best friends, Bizza and Char. Jessie’s friends seem much more interested in cultivating connections with the band mates of Jessie’s older brother, Barrett, and especially with Van, a boy Jessie has had a crush on for years. Bizza and Char even go so far as to re-make themselves for the new school year as punk rockers, the better to fit in with the band.
Jessie is an interesting blend of self-reliance and uncertainty. She has a clear sense of who she is—she is working on making a different skirt for each day of the school year from fun fabrics that she finds on clearance. She likes school, she likes her family, yet she wants to fit in. After a final sense of betrayal from Bizza and Char, Jessie finds herself needing to recreate her own school identity.
The novel gives a realistic depiction of how difficult it is to seek out new people with whom you may have shared interests, and how hard it can be to leave behind those old friends whom you have outgrown. Jessie makes the effort to cultivate a new group of people to share lunch by reaching out to one of her classmates. But her biggest “risk”—at least in her own eyes—is accepting an invitation from a different classmate to join in a weekly game of Dungeons and Dragons. She weighs her discomfort at being labeled a “nerd” against her desire to do things and meet new people, and decides to forge ahead. In the process, she finds a new group of people who care about her and accept her as she is.
This novel, while mostly affirming, does get into some problematic areas. High school students are seen facing issues revolving around oral sex and STDs, for example. As a result, I think this novel might fit best in a high school library. I can think of some 8th graders who might be mature enough to handle the subject matter, but I would not put it in my K to 8 school library because many students would not be able to handle it.
Overall, Halpern provides excellent insight into how a high school girl might try to navigate the ebb and flow of self-definition. I would highly recommend this book for most readers in that age group, but especially for girls.
Tags: "young adult" "into the wild nerd yonder" "julie halpern" "high school" adolescents teens novel
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