Being a huge Scrabble fan, I have to use, for my first blog review, one of my favourite young-adult books of this past year. Word Nerd by Susin Nielson is published by Tundra Books and, just a couple of weeks ago, it won the Ontario Library Association's 2010 Red Maple award.
Word Nerd is a wonderful book about 7th-grader Ambrose who, friendless and bullied, lives a lonely life with his over-protective mother until he meets an ex-convict neighbour and discovers the world of competitive Scrabble.
Nielsen describes the same competitive Scrabble subculture that Stefan Fatsis portrays so brilliantly in Word Freak (mentioned in Nielsen's acknowledgments) but from a teenager's perspective. Having been a tournament Scrabble player myself, I can confirm that Nielsen gets it right. She succeeds in describing the eclectic mix of personalities that get drawn in by this game and conveying the reasons why it's so easy to become obsessed by it. However, the book is about so much more than Scrabble. It's about gaining your independence, casting aside your prejudices and finding the place where you really belong.
There are a few mild and humorous references to Ambrose's emerging sexuality, so even though some booksellers include this book in the 9-12 age category, parents of younger children may want to wait a bit before introducing this book. It is certainly an appropriate and easy read for middle-school children.
Reviewed by Paulina