Title: The Summer I Became a Nerd
Author: Leah Rae Miller
Genre: Young adult contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Madelyne Jean Summers has a problem. She’s a junior, a cheerleader, one of the popular girls, and is dating the quarterback of her high school football team…but it’s all a lie. She’s really a closet nerd (literally—proof of her nerdom is hidden in her closet) and hides the truth of who she is and what’s really important to her from everyone, even Terra, her supposed best friend. She had a traumatic experience while in junior high that convinced her that showing her geeky side will get her shunned, and so she’s decided that living a double life is the way to go.
As the novel begins, Maddie is anxiously awaiting the latest installment of her favorite comic book series in the mail only to discover it’s been backordered. She is forced to don a clever disguise and head off to the only comic book store in town—she simply cannot wait the two months the company promises her it will take for her very own copy to arrive. Maddie gets to The Phoenix too late, though—the last available copy has been purchased. The boy behind the cash register, though—Logan Scott, a fellow junior Maddie recognizes from school—has a copy, and he’s willing to loan it to his “mystery” customer.
Logan of course recognizes Maddie (her disguise consisted of a hoodie, a Boston Celtics cap, and sunglasses—and Logan’s had a crush on her for most of high school), and so begins a friendship that both are secretly—or maybe not so secretly, in Logan’s case—hoping will turn into something more. And so Maddie’s summer begins….
She spends the first sixty percent of the book stubbornly sticking to her “I have to keep lying to everyone I know or I’ll become a loser geek” attitude, and it drove me crazy! It felt like it was way over the top. I know it’s been a while since I’ve been in high school, but I work (and live with) junior high and high school kids, so I know I’m not totally out of touch. Even the event that caused her to go this route seemed way too extreme to be true. As a result the first part of the book made me a little nuts, as I was convinced Maddie really didn’t need to go to such extremes, and that all her self-absorption and crazy whacked-out decision making was going to do was hurt everyone around her for no reason.
Thankfully, Maddie snaps out of it. Events occur that make her realize what an idiot she’s being, and once she decides to get her act together the novel really picks up. A big part of the plot involves live action role-playing games—a world I know nothing about—so that portion was a bit over my head, but still entertaining. (I’m only a semi-geek. I’ll admit to going to ONE sci-fi convention and hanging out on the fringes while my brother played D&D years ago, but that’s it. And I only have a few comic books/graphic novels–and they’re mostly for the kids. Mostly.) This was a unique twist to the popular girl/geeky boy story that ultimately ended up working for me. It was a cute way to get the “be yourself” message across to readers, and I’ll be interested to see what Miller writes in the future.
In a nutshell: frustrating heroine in the beginning, but she pulls it together in the end. 4 stars for a unique idea, strong ending, and good message for YA readers.
(I received an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)