If you’re going to write a YA novel with a less-than-popular teen character, you’ve got to read the book American Nerd: The Story of My People by Benjamin Nugent.
Nugent confesses to being labeled a nerd in high school. But he doesn’t rest his expertise on his personal experience. He looks at the nerd in scholarly studies, interviews, popular culture, and even touches a bit on the nerd in history.
In Nugent’s view, a true nerd is more inward, more directed by logic and reason and less by emotion and physicality. A nerd is more machine-like, stiffer, and has some relationship to Japan. You’ll have to read the book to understand that last part.
There are two types of nerds: people who truly deserve the name, and others who are guilty by association.
Nugent takes us through the trends that have helped to define the nerd, such as Dungeons and Dragons, the high school debate team, manga and anime, Star Trek, Star Wars, pseudo-Medieval societies, computer games…
But through interviews we find out that while these pursuits alienate the nerd from the mainstream, they also serve as a vehicle for friendship with other nerds. In some cases, these nerdly endeavors are even a salvation.
And then there is the issue of Asperger’s Syndrome. Are nerds mentally ill? Should we try to “cure” nerdiness? If we do, will we lose our greatest technological innovators and scientists?
This book is thoughtful as well as interesting. It’s a peek into nerds’ feelings, understandings, and often their self-loathing.
If you’re a writer, American Nerd will be a big help in developing your characters. If you’re not a writer, it might just help you be a little kinder.