Fake Mustache

by Tom Angleberger
ages: 10+
First sentence: “You may remember seeing me on TV when Jodie O’Rodeo saved the world.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

One mustache to rule the world.

(Seriously.)

One kinda nerdy seventh grader to stop the evil master plan (spurred on by his ex-best friend) from happening.

(Granted, he had help from a teen TV singing sensation.)

Will they be able to do it?

(Stop Fako Mustacho, the evil genius, that is. Though they also fall in luvvv along the way. Possibly. Keep in mind that this is a tall tale, though.)

Will I find this book to be as funny as others have?

(No.)

Will it be as epic as it sounds?

(Possibly for some.)

M and C both thought the idea sounded quite awesome, however. For what it’s worth.

(It means that my sense of humor just didn’t jive with this one.)

And while I’m sad that I didn’t like Fake Mustache as much as I’ve enjoyed Angleberger’s other books, I am in no way hindered in my enjoyment of his books.

(Mostly.)

Advertisements

Before I Fall

by Lauren Oliver
ages: 14+
First sentence: “They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that’s not how it happened for me.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

Samantha (Sam to her friends) Kingston has it all: popularity, three best friends, a hot boyfriend. Not bad for a senior at Thomas Jefferson High. Then one night, everything goes wrong and she’s killed in a car accident. (Trust me: that’s not a spoiler.) Then she’s given the Groundhog Day treatment (to Oliver’s credit, she tipped her hat in that direction with a mention), and forced to live the last day of her life over (seven times), until she gets it “right”.

I’ll get straight to it, since most of you have already read this one: I hated Sam. I hated her friends. I hated her boyfriend. And yet, I couldn’t put the book down. I think we’re supposed to hate Sam at the beginning (while I never really liked her, I didn’t hate her as much by the end), we’re not supposed to like the person she is or the choices she’s making. Because, honestly: she and her friends were the girls I despised in high school. They were, as another character says, bitches. (Sorry. There really is no better word.) So, that I actually could tolerate Sam (though I understood her friends by the end, I didn’t like any of them, and wondered why Sam would hang out with them) is a marvel of good writing.

There’s a lot to think about in this one, too. Choices, especially in regards to friends. As M pointed out, why Sam turned her back on the nerd she was in order to be “popular.” (That’s a crime in M’s mind. I don’t blame her.) And then the progression of learning that she went through. For the record: day five was my favorite.

Was it a comfortable, happy read? No. Was it a good one? Well, surprisingly, yes. There’s a lot to think about, and while you’ll probably hate the characters too, I bet you won’t be able to put it down either.

Anya’s Ghost

by Vera Brosgol
ages: 14+
First sentence: “What’s for breakfast?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

When you pickup a graphic novel that has a blurb from Neil Gaiman on the front (“A Masterpiece!”) and has been getting a lot of buzz, you invariably have high expectations.

And in many ways this graphic novel lived up to my expectations. Dealing with issues of inclusion, it tells the story of teenage Russian immigrant Anya Borzakovskaya, . Sure, she’s been here since she’s 5, and sure, she doesn’t have much of an accent, but she does have the baggage that many children of immigrants have: parents who can’t speak English well, traditions that are held over from the old country, a funny last name that she’s embarrassed about. She’s struggling at her private school; her mom wants her to be friends with the other Russian kid, Dima, who’s just the world’s biggest nerd. All she wants to do is skip and hang out with her one friend, Siobhan, and smoke.

Then she falls down a hole and meets a ghost. Not just any ghost, but one that wants to stay with Anya, and help her, and experience life. Creepy, no?

Well, yes. It’s a ghost story after all. Which is what disappointed me. I wanted more creepyness. I wanted to be scared out of my skin, and while I got a little bit of my wish near the end, I was disappointed that it wasn’t as scary as, say, Coraline.

That’s not to say it doesn’t work: it does, as one of those good-girl-at-heart-finds-her-way-back-into-the-fold books. Just not as a ghost story.

At least, not for me.

Nerd Camp

by Elissa Brent Weissman
ages: 9+
First sentence: “It was so late that it was almost tomorrow.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

Gabe is a nerd. Seriously. He’s smart, he loves math and poetry and reading, and he’s just been accepted into the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment — a six-week sleepaway camp that you have to take a test to get into.

He’s okay with all this — well, in fact, it’s more than okay: he’s really, really excited — until he meets his soon-to-be stepbrother, Zach. Who is not a nerd. In fact, he is disdainful of all things nerdy. Gabe doesn’t quite know how to react to that: he really, really wants to get along with his new brother (he’s always longed for a sibling), but he doesn’t want to give up all the things he loves.

Thankfully, there’s SCGE camp to help him out: are the adventures he has over the course of the summer negated by their nerdiness, or cool in their own right?

I adored this book. Seriously. Perhaps it’s because I’m a mother of nerds, and one myself, but I thought Weissman just got the whole nerd kid culture — not  to mention that wonderful awkwardness of being 10-years-old — spot-on. Every little thing, from the awkwardness around new girls to the learning pi to the 20th digit, was adorable. (Perhaps I shouldn’t call a boy book adorable. It’d turn the boys off. But seriously, it was.) I loved Gabe from the get-go, and it didn’t take long for his camp friends Wesley and Nikhil to grow on me, either. I also really, really wanted to go to the camp. I’m not much into logic proofs, but Weissman made them seem really, really cool.

The only down side was that I felt Zach was a little shallow: all “cool” kids aren’t down on reading or horrible at spelling. (There’s also the side issue of why everything has to be either/or: do we really have to be smart OR cool? Maybe in 5th grade, yes…) But, because Zach was hardly a character, it didn’t bring the awesomeness level of this one down.

I suppose the question, in the end, is: will the boy nerds read this one? I hope so. Really.

The Fault in Our Stars

by John Green
ages: 14+
First sentence: “Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

I love John Green, the person. I adore his blog, think he’s a smart, insightful, funny guy, and would absolutely love to have him (and his wife and kid) over for dinner sometime.

I have not, however, been a really huge fan of his books. Saying that almost makes me an outcast in Nerdfighteria, but I’ll live with that. Sure, he has moments of brilliant hilarity, but I have always thought that he tries too hard to be Deep, which too often comes off as pretentious.

That said, I think he’s one of those writers that as he gets older, he gets better. I’ve liked each one of his books better than the last, thinking that maybe he’s figuring out the balance between angst and thoughtfulness, human observation and invention.

Which leads me to The Fault in Our Stars: I honestly can say that this is a John Green book that I loved. Seriously, wonderfully, amazingly loved. (No, I didn’t cry. I’d figured it out before it came along, and I managed to steel myself, but I do admit that I was moved.)

Hazel is 16 and dying of cancer. Sure, she’s had a miracle drug that’s prolonged her life, but really: she has cancer, she is slowly dying, mostly because her lungs are “crap”. Tethered to an oxygen tube, she basically exists, waiting to die. Then she meets Augustus Waters. Hot, amazing, full-of-life (even though he’s got cancer as well), Augustus Waters. We get to watch them slowly fall in love, as they share Thoughts, and Books, and Ideas, and Hopes, and Fears. Sure, there’s an improbable trip (cancer perk!) to Amsterdam to meet the douchebag author (as M called him) of the book that Hazel adores (and Augustus grew to love as well).

But really it’s mostly one of those books that Makes You Think. But, this is where John’s gotten better: it’s not pretentious. Really. The emotions are honest; the cynicism, the reflections, the quoting of improbably sophisticated literature all works in this context. And yes, it is heartbreaking and hilarious, as everyone promises.

In other words, if you want the best that John Green has to offer, this is it. (Until he writes another book.)

Nerds Heart YA, Round 1: 8th Grade Super Zero vs. MindBlind

8th Grade Super Zero
by Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich
ages: 12+
First sentence: “Everyone know’s what’s up, because it’s the first day of school and I set the tone.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

Reginald Garvey McKnight did not start the school year off well. Which means, for this eighth grade year, he’s stuck in loserville because of an unfortunate vomiting incident on the first day of school. Reggie’s content putting his head down and just surviving, even with the constant (nasty) teasing by his former friend Donovan. But then his church youth group does a service project at a local homeless shelter. For many reasons, this moves Reggie, and suddenly what was going to be a low-key year of just surviving becomes something more. And as he gets involved, he finds that he’s becoming something more.

I loved the characters of this one — the ethnic and religious diversity, as well as just their genuine heart — as well as the issues it discussed. It’s very broad: there are issues of homlessness and community responsibility, as well as religion, bullying, race relations, sibling rivalry, as well as a parent that’s unemployed. You wouldn’t think with so much going on that it would work, but it does. Perhaps because it’s a slice of life: the conflict is minimal, though real, and lets Reggie’s inner struggle and questions shine. I also liked how it treated everyone (even the bullies) with respect.

MindBlind
by Jennifer Roy
ages: 12+
First sentence: “Open File: C:\MyFiles\genius\first_time.avi (Date: 1/14/99)”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

Nathaniel Clark is not a genius. He’ll be the first to tell you that. Sure, he’s 14 and has graduated from college already, and yeah, so he has Asperger Syndrome, but in order to be a “genius”, he needs to have use his talents to make a contribution to the world.

Getting through daily life seems to be quite all he’s able to do, with his math, and the friends he does have — Molly, his bowling partner; Cooper, the boy next door; and Jessa, a friend that Nathaniel wants to be more than a friend — and keeping everything in check, so he can appear “neurotypical.” And that’s not even mentioning his stubbornly obtuse father.

As we follow Nathaniel around, we get to know him and his quirks, how he thinks and feels, and experience the world from his fascinating perspective. We learn about his life through flashbacks (he accesses his memories as computer files and watches them like movies). We experience good times, when he’s doing well, as well as times when he crashes and retreats into N-world, his own safe place.

It’s all very captivating and interesting, but Nathaniel is also more than that: he’s a winning character, a sympathetic person: fascinating and engaging and cheer-worthy.

Decision:
It was difficult to decide between these two books, both of which were fantastically written and captivating to read. But, in the end, I think I’m going to go with Reggie and 8th Grade Super Zero for breaking the mold, for giving us a story of a God-fearing, caring, interesting, black boy, who wants to help and not be shoved into any of the black male stereotypes. That definitely is something to cheer about.

Sean Griswold’s Head

by Lindsey Leavett
ages: 12+
First sentence: “Nothing creates a buzz like an Executive Deluxe day planner.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.

Payton Gritas has been sitting behind Sean Griswold pretty much every day since third grade (it’s an alphabetical order thing), but has never really noticed him. Then, she’s thrown a bombshell at home: her dad has had MS for the last six months, and they’ve not bothered to tell Payton. No, he’s not dying, but his life is going to change, and she’s not happy that they excluded her from the loop.

Her parents insist upon her going to counseling when she gets sullen around them (completely understandable, though), and the counselor (it really is just the high school counselor) suggests Payton pick a Focus Object to write about as a way to work through her feelings. Payton, for lack of a better thing (well, there were probably better things, but there wouldn’t be a book if she chose a pencil sharpener), she picks Sean Griswold’s head. At first it’s just an exercise, but with a little pushing from her friend Jac, soon an exercise becomes a crush. And it turns out that Sean Griswold may just be as interested in Payton as she’s becoming in him.

This is a sweet little book. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, the romance is sweet, and the crisis is, thankfully, not cancer. It’s interesting to see a different disease tackled, one that changes lives as much as cancer does, but in a different way. It’s refreshing to have a good, positive family dynamic, one in which they’re dealing with mistakes, sure, but for the most part, the family is healthy and intact. It’s nice to see first love blossoming, and to deal with Payton’s awkwardness. She’s not fat, she’s not anorexic, she’s smart but not nerdy: she’s just a good half-Latina girl who’s trying to adjust to the fact that her dad has MS, there’s nothing she can do about it, and by the way the boy who’s sat in front of her for years is actually really pretty cute. And nice. And fun.

Sweet without being cloying, a disease book without being issuey. Gotta love that.