A Review of The Summer I Became A Nerd by Leah Rae Miller
Entangled Teen, 2013
by REBECCA, June 12, 2013
Maddie Summers is a popular girl, a beautiful blonde cheerleader who dates the quarterback of the football team. But Maddie has a secret—a secret that she’s sure would turn her into a social pariah if anyone found out: Maddie Summers loves comic books. And science fiction. And superheroes. Maddie Summers is . . . a nerd.
The Summer I Became A Nerd is a coming out story. It’s the story of how a girl who values her friends, her social standing, and the ease that it brings her at school, learns that hiding her true self brings her pain instead of freedom. And it’s a story about how you can’t be happy—no matter your popularity—if you’re being dishonest with yourself. It’s a simple story, but one that never really loses its appeal, and debut author Leah Rae Miller presents this version with humor, poignancy, and definite nerd appeal.
Once, years ago, Maddie dressed up as one of her favorite superheroes for a Halloween costume contest at school. When she stepped onstage and told the audience of her peers who she was dressed as, her best friend made fun of her for liking comics and, ever since then, Maddie has equated her love of comics with being ridiculed and losing friends. It’s understandable, then, that she has learned to hide her nerdy obsessions from her new friends, especially since she really, legitimately loves her best friend and is terrified of facing the same ridicule again. She keeps a journal of all the comics she’s read hidden in her closet (yeah, when I said it was a coming out story, I wasn’t referring to subtle cues), and she downloads her comics to her computer rather than risk being caught with the evidence of paper comics.
But, on the day the book begins, Maddie arrives home elated because the final issue of her favorite, long-running comic will be arriving in the mail (no digital option, so she had to order a physical copy). When she brings the envelope to her room, however, she finds that she has not received issue #400 of her comic; it’s been back-ordered and she won’t get it for two months.
“There’s only one place in town that would have a copy. Is the risk of being seen and losing my place atop Natchitoches Central’s elite worth it? No. Absolutely not. It’s been a long, hard climb to the top of the popularity ladder . . . I’m in a constant state of ‘no one can know,’ and it sucks. But . . . can I go two months without knowing? Can I last two months without going on the comic book forums, Twitter, or Facebook for fear of spoilers?
Of course I can’t. Damn your awesomeness, Super Ones. I grab a hoodie, my dad’s green Boston Celtics cap, and I make double sure my shades are in my purse. Drastic times call for drastic measures.”
At The Phoenix—the only comic shop in town, and the “one place” that would have issue #400—Maddie tries to get total strangers to buy the comic for her; she nearly has a heart attack about going inside. Finally, though, she has to do it, and she meets Logan Scott, a kid she goes to school with whom she’s had a crush on ever since he got expelled for wearing a shirt with a comic artist’s image on it the year before.
And thus begins Maddie’s awakening to the fact that there are people who she can connect with about comics and other nerdy things, who won’t judge her. And that she feels more herself with those people than she does when she’s caught up in the “deceit and subterfuge” that have defined her popular-girl life.
The Summer I Became A Nerd reminded me a lot of Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever and Just Listen. Both are books about girls who have previously defined themselves by others’ expectations and their internalizations of them—in The Truth About Forever it’s as a smart, together girl, and in Just Listen, it’s as a model. And both are about how certain experiences that break those patterns (not to mention awesome boys who like the characters for who they really are) enable these girls to embrace selves that they like better. And I mean those comparisons in a great way—Miller’s writing is breezy and compelling without making the story seem fluffy, and she has Dessen’s ability to make a summer seem like plenty of time to totally reinvent yourself. (Also much like Sarah Dessen novels, The Summer I Became A Nerd has an absolutely horrible cover—but don’t let that stop you!)
I was a little nervous, upon beginning the book, that I would find Maddie a shallow, timid thing—so desperately brainwashed about popularity that she buries her true passions. Instead, I sympathized with Maddie, who is smart, and kind; when she acts thoughtlessly, it’s out of fear rather than malice, and Miller does an excellent job making her struggle believable without making her unlovable. A bonus here is that everyone has parents who are not caricatures of awfulness or amazingness. Throw in some role playing games, a little bit of indie comic shop business, and the obligatory comic nerd descriptive comparisons, and I was sold:
“If this was an alternate timeline or maybe a galaxy far, far away, I might have the guts to tell him the truth. But this isn’t. This is the galaxy where Madelyne Jean Summers is a liar and a wuss, end of story, thanks for watching, roll the credits.”
The Summer I Became A Nerd is a breezy, fun read with substance and definite nerd appeal. Charming.
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (2004). The Truth About Forever takes place over a summer in which Macy decides to stop playing it safe and start taking risks to be herself. I love this book because it gives a prismatic view of summer: there’s Macy’s new job at the chaotic catering company, her late-night truth-telling sessions with Wes, and lazy evenings with her new friends, etc. My favorite scenes are the casual summer night hangouts at the diner, going for soda at the gas station, walking and talking with nowhere to be and nothing to get back to.
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (2006). Dessen really gets the power of not just music, but radio. Owen uses his radio show as a way to communicate, and to feel like he is making his little corner of the world more beautiful. His show helps Annabel discover that she, too, wants to be in control of her world. A really delightful read, even for those who don’t think of themselves as being part of the Dessen crowd. You can check out my full review HERE.
How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis (2012). Like The Summer I Became A Nerd, my new favorite book, How to Repair a Mechanical Heart, takes on the ways that our obsessions and fandoms have a huge affect on who we are as people. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Or both. Either way, to deny your fandom, both books suggest, is to deny yourself. You can check out my full review of the wonderful How to Repair a Mechanical Heart HERE, and an interview with author J.C. Lillis HERE.
procured from: I received an ARC from the publisher (thanks!) in exchange for an honest review. The Summer I Became A Nerd by Leah Rae Miller is available now.