Review prologue: I was that comic book nerd.
I didn’t hide it like Maddie, because I didn’t really have any friends that I’d need to hide anything from. I had my life, I hung out with friends, but they didn’t need to be included on everything. That’s the thing about being 10, I guess.
Back before parents didn’t let children go anywhere in public without a full compliment of guards, I would get on the bus every Saturday afternoon after my chores were done. I’d ride 20 minutes to the C-Train station, then another 20 minutes to the heart of downtown, and walk to the comic shop on one of the seediest “retail” strips Calgary had at the time. There I’d divest myself of my allowance, mostly on the latest issues of the X-Men. I didn’t buy every week, but the store guys didn’t mind that I would spend the odd Saturday just looking and reading a bit because I was a regular. I wonder what they thought of me? At 10, you really don’t think about things like that. You do your thing.
Which is my minor little issue with Leah Rae Miller’s “The Summer I Became A Nerd.” Our heroine Maddie is obsessed with her hard-won popular girl status. It’s not really clear if she loves cheerleading, but she sure doesn’t seem to like anything else about the popular-girl life. She even has a hard time enjoying time with her closest friends Tara and Rayann. Tara, in particular, is supposed to be her best friend but doesn’t really know anything about Maddie at all.
This plot point stretched my suspended disbelief a one beat too far The sheer amount of deception needed to perpetrate Maddie’s public facade which included Tara didn’t ring quite true given the ease and depth of Tara and Maddie’s relationship.
That detraction aside, I was won over by the realism of true, nerdy giddiness Miller brings out so beautifully. This is a universal truth: there’s nothing better in the world than finding someone who loves what you love, no matter how uncool and silly it may be. We know how liberating it is to acknowledge and celebrate your true self and not surprisingly, these moments are is where the narrative shines.
Spoiler alert: now we get into the details nearing the end of the story, so STOP READING NOW and come back later when you’ve read it. Seriously. Stop here. I’ll be here when you get back, honest.
BIG SPACER FOR SPOILER-AVOIDANT PEOPLE. I WARNED YOU.
You know that pivotal point in a book when any weaknesses fall away and you just give yourself over to it? I hit it when Maddie concocted a daring quest to win Logan back. The defining moment was the tiny sliver of dialogue when Maddie goes over to meet with Marsha’s mom when launching said quest, and one of Logan’s sisters asks Maddie to watch TV with them. When Maddie replies that she’s busy with that quest thing, Vera replies with the single best line of the whole book (p. 214):
“Have fun storming the castle!”
I laughed out loud with sheer delight at this reference. No explanation or expansion, just leaving it out there in all its nerdy pop culture finery (if you don’t get it, you’re dead to me). This line made me long for more moments like this one in the book, but I’ll grant there may have been a few, or several, that I missed because I’m not nerdy enough to have caught them. I’m ok with that. (Feel free to tell me what I missed below in the comments.)
The quest is the part of the book where everything comes alive. It’s written so movie-like, the popcorn and pop were finished ages ago, you may have to go to the bathroom a little bit but you’re in that last 15 min. of the film and bladder issues are so irrelevant because THIS IS SO GOOD.
Despite the forced tension between Maddie and Tara, it’s such a well-crafted story with a satisfying character arcs for not just Maddie but so many of the secondary characters, I can happily give it a solid 4.5/5. If you’ve ever nerded out and felt anxious about doing so, this will be a worthwhile and fun YA read for you too.
(Note: An ARC was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)