NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society by Michael Buckley. Grades 4-6. Amulet, 2009. Reviewed from ARC picked up at ALA.
Jackson Jones is the It kid at his elementary school... until he's forced to have some major dental work including massive headgear. He instantly plummets from the pinnacle of popularity to the depths of nerddom. But being invisible has its advantages. Jackson begins to observe his classmates and learn some of their secrets. When he follows a suspicious group of nerds out of class one day, he stumbles upon the secret lair of the NERDS - a classified government espionage operation using biologically enhanced kids to thwart the Big Bads of the world. But can Jackson cut it as a NERD? Time will tell... but time's running out!
NERDS is so not my type of book, but I have to confess that I kind of loved it. Reading NERDS is like watching Saturday morning cartoons. I'm serious. It's wacky and funny and I could practically see the scenes unfolding in front of my eyes. To me, that's a mark of a book that kids will really enjoy.
I wouldn't hesitate to hand this to your reluctant readers, especially kids who like wacky-funny and/or books about spies. This'll be a hit.
And yeah, it's a tad gimmicky. The premise is that you've picked up a top-secret document and periodically the book asks for your "clearance" by scanning your retinas, analyzing your hair, etc. Some may find that distracting, but I found that it broke up the text in what is otherwise a pretty thick book. Chapters are short for the most part, which helps to keep the pages turning.
It's an interesting concept well done and sure to garner many elementary school fans.
Read another review at The HappyNappy Bookseller.
This is a Cybils nominee and this review reflects only my own opinion, not necessarily that of the panel.