Monday, October 3, 2011

Chapter Book Review - Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman

Sleepaway camp.

Those two words conjure up lots of images for most of us: bunkmates, roasting marshmallows, inane camp songs, canoeing, dubious arts-and-crafts projects, even more dubious camp food. Add in enrichment classes (mainly math and science), learning twenty digits of pi, and an all-camp Jeopardy! tournament and you have Gabe's best summer yet -- six weeks at the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment.

Gabe's never really thought of himself as a geek before. He just enjoys learning, has insatiable curiosity and never met a book he didn't want to crack open. His friends are all the same, and they love their classwork in the Gifted program at school. But now Gabe's dad is getting remarried, and Gabe will finally have a brother. Suddenly Gabe is considering his own life through Zack's eyes, and he's not sure about what he sees. Will Zack think Gabe's interests are cool or impossibly nerdy?

Just in case, Gabe's not telling Zack that the sleepaway camp he's headed for is SCGE. Instead, Gabe describes for Zack the "normal" things he and his friends do at camp. Meanwhile, Gabe's compiling a logic proof determined to settle the question once and for all: is Gabe nerdy, or not?

With Nerd Camp, Elissa Brent Weissman taps into the ongoing struggle many kids have with being accepted by their peers. Geek may be chic in popular culture (The Big Bang Theory, Chuck and other TV shows prove that), but what about in middle school? It can still be very tough to swim against the tide for kids who don't have support from friends, family or peers. Gabe's the kind of kid that has always been true to himself, but when faced with the notion that he might be somehow deficient, he begins to question that self-loyalty. It's only through a summer of scavenger hunts, rocket science and a whole lot of math equations that Gabe begins to see that being who you are is the first step on the road to true contentment.

Weissman weaves a good deal of smart-kid stuff into the plot of Nerd Camp, but strikes a good balance. There's action, comedy and enough gross-out humor to keep boys (and girls) turning pages The plot's never inaccessible, and Gabe remains an "everykid" despite his above-average intelligence. More importantly, she never disparages Gabe or his friends for the things they are interested in, whether that's poetry writing or logical reasoning. And the ending is just right, not too perfect or neatly wrapped up -- believable, which I think is incredibly important for books like this one.

Bottom line: Nerd Camp is a fast, funny read about the kind of kiddo we hope Sprout turns out to be: geek at heart!

Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman
Ages 8-12
Source: Library
Sample quote: "It was a story that would go down in camp history. But when Gabe settled into his bed and took out his notepad before lights out, he realized that, once again, it wasn't one that he could tell to Zack. Despite all the cool stuff that was filling up the first column, there were just as many condemning things filling up the second."

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