Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern

[ed note: the cover of my galley copy is not nearly this cute.]

This release (available in October) says that it’s appropriate for ages 13 and up. I’m gonna bump that to 14. High School Freshmen. Because while it is engaging and funny and endearing and relatable -- there is adult language and some adult situations that these 14 and 15 year olds find themselves in. Just sayin’.

Jessie, our heroine and narrator, is looking forward to the start of the school year. She has two best friends, an older brother who is part of the Cool Punk Scene, and a nice back-stock of funny/irreverent skirts that she has spent all summer making because she is - and I quote - “A fan of funny clothing.” She makes these cute little ironic skirts while listening to audio books about doom and death (Stephen King, and a few post-apocalyptic numbers) and she is looking forward to adding pre-calculus homework and girls nights to these two activities.

Of course - if things worked out that way we’d all be bored. So, as with all good coming of age novels, Things Go Wrong. Her “best friends” turn up “punk” overnight and start to obviously use her. There is even The Biggest Girlfriend Transgression a 15 year old can commit (I don’t want to give it away because it’s a major plot point, but I’m sure you can guess.) It quickly becomes clear to Jessie that these girls are not her friends. Or, at the very least, they’re not people she wants to be friends with any more.

So Jessie starts out on what my English professors always called a “Rite of Passage” - trying to find her own identity while keeping her own humorous outlook on the world - and come to terms with the fact that her Cool Punk Brother is doing the same thing - and she starts to socialize with other groups of new people. She also - gasp - starts to see her family in a new light.

Halpern (who works as a school librarian for the very age group this book is targeted at) has the vernacular down. Will it seem dated in 10-15 years? I hope not. Or if it does, I hope it’s dated in a Judy Blume way...where you don’t really notice because the story is so darn good and you know Exactly How Jessie Feels. Because I think a lot of girls do. And will, once they read this. She’s certainly a unique character (audio books and funny skirts, anyone?) but she’s also a recognizable one. Even for us girls who are twice her age.

[ps - I think that this would even be a good read for moms...she might just be this generation's Judy Blume. So pick it up and understand your daughter that much better.]

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