Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen Age: 6-9th grade Genre: Fiction /Scrabble Publisher: Tundra Books, 2008 ISBN: 9780887769900, 256 pages Find this book at your local library
Life for Ambrose has not been easy since his father died of a brain aneurism when Ambrose was just an infant. Ambrose is a 12-year-old self-described nerd, with a very, very over protective mother. Moving from town to town whenever his mother gets restless leaves Ambrose friendless and awkward. When some bullies from school put a peanut in his sandwich and send Ambrose to the hospital because of his peanut allergy, his mother takes Ambrose out of public school and enlists him in a homeschooling correspondence program. Although, once at home, Ambrose befriends the ex-convict son of the landlords, enlisting Cosmo to drive him a weekly scrabble club. Soon, a very unlikely friendship is formed, despite the number of obstacles that stand in their way.
This book is ridiculously endearing and charming. Ambrose reminding me quite a bit of the narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, although Ambrose will tell you that he is not. “I was not autistic (attics, static, tacit, acts, tat, cast, cats, cist, cuts, scat, tics). I’d seen Rain Man.” Ambrose’ mother is over-the-top protective of her son. Ambrose has very limited freedom, and its no wonder he quickly clings to Cosmo and their weekly outings. Cosmo plays a big brother role in Ambrose’ life, although Cosmo’s life is far from perfect. Haunted by his criminal past by a villainous Silvio, Cosmo tries desperately to kick his drug habit, stay out of trouble, find a job, date a the director of the scrabble club, and somehow repay Silvio the $2,000.oo that he owes. Cosmo and Ambrose form an unlikely friendship in that they both help each other out. Ambrose meddling in Cosmo’s life keeps him out of trouble, and Cosmo’s presence in Ambrose’s life provides a sense of belonging, of the acceptance that Ambrose craves.
Ambrose’s gift with scrabble is another key element of the book. He’s constantly constructing and deconstructing the people in his life. Every chapter begins with a fun word game of scrabbled letters which describes the mood of the chapter, along with all their possible word combinations.
There is some foul language in this book, and quite a few references to “boobs” and Ambrose’s emerging sexuality. I’d recommend this to less squeamish middle schoolers, but I think it will go over best with 7th-8th grades. There is violence in this book in the form of bullies both physically violent and mentally abusive. Ambrose’s quirky and blunt narration make the scenes easier to swallow. I’m sure any kid who picks up this book will find some reason to connect with Ambrose.