It isn’t easy being different, particularly when your Value Village clothes and severe peanut allergy make you the
number-one target of every mean kid in school. Word Nerd, the latest novel from veteran Degrassi screenwriter Susin Nielsen, details the life of 12-year-old Ambrose, a bright and awkward boy who just doesn’t fit in, no matter where in Canada he and his overly protective single mom move.
After a trio of bullies purposefully slip a peanut into Ambrose’s sandwich, sending him into anaphylactic shock, his mother promptly pulls him out of school to be educated at home. Lonely and bored, Ambrose befriends Cosmo, the 25-year-old son of his Greek landlords, who has a dark and mysterious past. Together, the two discover a shared appreciation for Scrabble. When Ambrose discovers a flyer for a local competitive Scrabble club, he and Cosmo enter a new world where fitting in has nothing to do with wearing the right clothes or battling bullies.
Replete with surprisingly helpful Scrabble tips and enlivened by the witty, articulate musings of a hyper-observant and eccentric protagonist, Word Nerd is also chock-full of valuable lessons about being yourself and giving second chances. The swift, fully developed plot, advancing in short, action-packed chapters, makes the story a page-turner.
Today’s young readers will likely be able to identify with some of the heavier themes, such as single-parent families, loved ones overcoming addiction, and the pre-adolescent’s blossoming fascination with the opposite sex. And any young reader who has ever faced the cruelty of pre-teen bullies will appreciate Ambrose’s gutsy attitude in the face of adversity, and his refusal to allow his passion to be squashed by social disapproval.