I was given The Summer I Became a Nerd for review by Entangled Publishing. But I wanted it far before I saw the offer on twitter.
(Little bit of trivia. Maddie’s boyfriend at the beginning of the book is a football player named Eric. And the main love interest is named Logan. You may remember that those are the names of the love interests in Love Sucks. Weird, huh? Especially because Eric’s a football player there too.)
On the outside, seventeen-year-old Madelyne Summers looks like your typical blond cheerleader—perky, popular, and dating the star quarterback. But inside, Maddie spends more time agonizing over what will happen in the next issue of her favorite comic book than planning pep rallies with her squad. That she’s a nerd hiding in a popular girl’s body isn’t just unknown, it’s anti-known. And she needs to keep it that way.
Summer is the only time Maddie lets her real self out to play, but when she slips up and the adorkable guy behind the local comic shop’s counter uncovers her secret, she’s busted. Before she can shake a pom-pom, Maddie’s whisked into Logan’s world of comic conventions, live-action role-playing, and first-person-shooter video games. And she loves it. But the more she denies who she really is, the deeper her lies become…and the more she risks losing Logan forever.
When I read about this book, I squee-ed in nerdish glee. I couldn’t wait to see a YA contemporary where the main character was celebrated for going to cons, for playing role-playing games, for making sci-fi/fantasty (hereby referred to as SFF) inside jokes.
There are many moments where the author just hits the fangirl note perfectly. Right at the beginning, we find Maddie freaking out because it’s going to take 2 months to get the last issue of her favorite comic book. Can she stay away from the chatrooms, keep spoiler-free for 2 whole months? Yeah, I’m how many episodes behind on Doctor Who and putting my hands over my ears (or eyes when online), going “la la la, no spoilers please,” and considering just downloading the eps to catch up? I get it, Maddie, I get it. The overwhelming feeling of being at your first big fan event, full of people having their wild and crazy nerdy fun, was well written. Then add in little gems of geekdom like the dog being named Leeloo (The Fifth Element) or a joke about a Jedi master getting exasperated at his Padawan for using the Force to get the remote control. And yet, oddly, along with the specific titles and references, occasionally movies/shows/songs are given to us in vague terms where we have to guess (if we even know) what Maddie is talking about. Which is a weird dynamic, especially when you have both examples on the same page, going, “What up, Akira?” “Not much, unknown sci-fi show about a love triangle and a psycho bounty hunter.”
The book does require some suspension of disbelief. You have to believe that a girl who was ridiculed in front of the entire school for being a comic book fan could erase all memory of the incident and hide her love of comics, magically become popular, and get the football star to date her even though they’re clearly not interested in each other. But, please, I’m a SFF fan, I can suspend belief like it’s a kid caught with pot on school grounds.
Maddie herself was oftentimes frustrating. She also seemed really bad at this whole lying thing. First of all, suddenly she feels guilty about it, even though her whole life is a lie. Also, she goes through the most contrived process to hide her love of comics sometimes. It is way more conspicuous to hang out in the alley between the popular kids’ favorite restaurant and the comic book store, pssting at a strange man to go pick up a comic for you, rather than taking a few seconds to walk into the store, where you would be then hidden. I understand her need for secrecy and the fear she had at being exposed, really, but sometimes it just felt like it was too much, particularly when she was already at places where everyone else was into the same things she was. The way she maintained her popularity seemed overblown in her head. Like her friends would dump her if she didn’t like the same singer as them. Like the only reason she was popular was because she was dating the head quarterback so breaking up with him would be the kiss of death (but since neither of them were really that into each other, they were both using each other, which suggests that she already was popular before they started dating).
The second half picked up a lot, while the first half dragged a little. Some of this was the repetition of the “how will Maddie hide her love of Logan and superheroes from her friends, while she and Logan bond over comics?” game. The first LARP (live-action role-playing) game isn’t all that exciting, although just the atmosphere of it can be fun to be introduced to if you’re not used to RPGs or folks in fantasy costumes. The ridiculously fake love triangle gets wrestled with in the first half, but is dispensed of, for the most part, not too far into the book. There’s a lot of talk about going to a concert with her BFF vs. going to a convention with Logan (even before Maddie realizes it’s the same day, you guess it). I was actually surprised that the concert vs. con was resolved pre-climax.
But that’s okay with me because I LOVED the climax! Actually the last quarter of the book was perfect for me. The final LARP game was amazing. It was exactly the sort of thing I wanted when I was geeking out imagining what this book was like. I know, I know, the whole concept is Maddie’s transformation leading up to that point, but it was great to have the payoff. More payoff was how a lot of minor things that had been mentioned earlier in the book got used in the final pages.
Recommended for fans of: comics; LARPing/RPGs (or just the curious about them); contemporary stories about SFF stuff; adorkable love interests; fake love triangles; secret identities; minor SFF inside jokes.
Rating: 3.5 hearts
Lots of love,