Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Book Review: NERDS

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.


  1. I got a copy of this at ALA too, but I haven't read it. I did flip through it and I got the same cartoon feel! The kids at the library love it! I'm pretty sure it hasn't sat on a shelf for more then 10 minutes since it came in in the fall!

  2. I wasn't a fan of this book because I didn't like the main character. I just couldn't identify with him or sympathize with him because he was a bully who probably would have been mean to me in school.

    (I know that sounds kind of silly, but it was how I felt.)

    And I never really got the impression that he ever stopped being a bully either, which would have helped.

  3. Nerds is a Trojan horse in that it provides the appearance of a good-humored, child-appropriate book but actually contains some very dark and disturbing messages. One is the description of the young (elementary school age) girl Hyena who aspires to be an assassin and is disappointed when her first job working for an evil mastermind hasn’t provided her with any opportunities to kill anyone. How would a parent explain to any 4th grader that anyone his or her age would enjoy killing people?

    I stopped reading the book with my child about half-way through, after the evil mastermind punished a scientist he kidnapped for not explaining the operation of the scientist’s invention that the villain seeks. However, the villain explains to the victim before pressing the button that he is being punished because the villain doesn’t like the way one of the scientist’s ears is bigger than the other. He punished the scientist by pressing a button which sent the scientist plummeting to his death in a great burst of flames while the remaining kidnapped scientists watched. Have fun explaining the rationale behind this to your child.

    I have watched many TV programs and movies with my child where people die. But the context in which people die is important. When my child reads a story where the villain sends a person to a horrible death, presumably because of his unevenly-sized ears, it crosses the boundary of what kind of dark “humor” 4th-to-6th graders should be exposed to.

    This book has no place on school bookshelves and parents should avoid it. There’s plenty of other good fiction for elementary schools students that doesn’t glamorize killing and that doesn’t expose the worst of humanity before they are intellectually ready for it.