As much as I love Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, I kind of hate it, too. Not because it’s not funny or because it doesn’t have a great romance ((it’s hilarious and totally swoony), but because I didn’t write it. Seriously, this book is amazing and I’m so jealous of Julie Halpern’s writing. But don’t worry, guys! I’ll put aside my writing-induced jealousy for the greater good, which is telling you all about this super smart, super witty, super awesome book.
Our heroine Jessie’s been BFFs with Bizza (A+ name) and Char since they were kids, but lately, they’ve started to drift apart. Bizza and Char are now Hot Topic aficionados who are more interested in hanging out with Jessie’s brother’s cool punk band than they are in hanging out with Jessie. Meanwhile, Jessie would way rather be sewing skirts than hanging out in a cloud of cigarette smoke with the punk dudes at Denny’s every night. After an big betrayal from Bizza, Jessie decides she needs new friends.
Enter the nerds. When Jessie starts hanging out with a group of Dungeons and Dragons players, she soon realizes that they’re actually pretty fun. And one of them, Henry, is actually pretty cute. But is Jessie turning into a nerd herself? And is she sort of okay with that?
I’ll admit that I didn’t know a ton about D&D before reading Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, even though I really should have because my husband plays it. Like, on a weekly basis. I’ve asked him a few times to explain the rules, so I had a basic idea of what happens (special dice are involved, there are some orcs….and sometimes you get eaten by wolves?), but I still found it confusing. Not anymore! I’m not saying I’m a D&D expert, but I actually learned a lot from this book.
As you probably know, D&D has a reputation for being kind of…nerdy. I mean, it’s in the title of the book, so that’s not a surprise. But the thing is, learning all about it made it seem really fun, and not just because I’m thinking about that episode of Freaks and Geeks where Daniel plays D&D with the geeks and becomes Carlos the Dwarf (although, let’s face it, that’s the best episode besides the one where Bill dresses up at the Bionic Woman).
So maybe D&D is nerdy. As Jessie realizes through the course of the book, big stinkin’ deal. Seriously. So what if it’s nerdy? To quote Nancy Pelosi, who cares? D&D isn’t really any different than anything else friends do together, and it’s definitely not nerdier than fantasy football, which takes up just as much time and is way weirder. We all have our weird, nerdy things that we shouldn’t have to apologize for unabashedly loving. For example, I’m a total nerd about YA fiction (even though I’m 27), Twin Peaks and staying in on Saturday nights to read, but I’m certainly not going to apologize if someone thinks my Special Agent Dale Cooper obsession is dorky. We all have our things, and to quote my dad (again), you like what you like. Don’t question the wisdom of Papa Winfrey.
-Guys, this whole book was a highlight. From the epigraph (a Built to Spill lyric!) to the very last page, I was in love with Into the Wild Nerd Yonder. Mostly this is due to Jessie’s hilarious (but still totally believable) voice. ITWNY actually reminds me of one of my favorite-ever YA books, The Princess Diaries. Jessie has all the unassuming sassiness of Princess Mia, but with D&D instead of, like, ruling a country.
-Y’all know I can’t get too far without mentioning the romance. Jessie’s crush on Henry is so sweet while also being so realistic. For example, she feels embarrassed for him because he wears too-short pants and too-white sneakers, which is exactly the sort of detail my friends and I would have noticed about dudes in high school. What’s worse than bright white tennis shoes? Well, lots of things, actually, but they’re not super attractive is what I’m saying here. I also love that at one point Jessie describes Henry as having “blue-raspberry Slurpee eyes.”
-Rarely do I come across a YA book that mentions sewing, so I was super excited to read about Jessie’s obsession with making skirts out of fun fabrics. Although, as someone who can really only sew very simple things, I’m a little jealous of Jessie’s mad skills.
What about you guys? Have you read Into the Wild Nerd Yonder? Have you ever played D&D? What are your favorite YA books about nerdy topics? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.
Freaks and Geeks image via The Awl