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Revenge of the Nerds

Funny Shirt by Marco Gomes
If you think this is hilarious, you may be a nerd.
We are witnessing a revolution in the pop culture hierarchy. Things that were formerly viewed as “nerdy” and causes for ridicule–video-games and RPGs, comic book obsessions, l33t computer skillz, being in your high school band– are becoming popular, mainstream, and maybe even cool. Gasp! How did this happen?

Maybe it was shows like “High School Musical” and “Glee”, turning music geeks rather than cheerleaders into the idols of a generation. Maybe it was the amazing quality and box-office success of modern comic book movies like Batman: The Dark Knight, Iron Man and Spider-Man. Maybe it was Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck. Maybe it was even hipsters, whose goal in life is to make the uncool cool again. But in any case, nerds are hot stuff! So prepare for the nerd revolution by reading some books featuring nerdy, geeky and dweeby heroes.

Start by checking out the nominations for the 2012 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list Get Your Geek On. This list covers the classics of geek lit, like Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, Geektastic and The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl. There are really some must-reads in there for nerd aficionados.

In most of the books on this list, and most books that feature teen geeks in general, the main character’s geekiness itself drives the plot and provides the conflict. But what about books where the characters are incidental nerds, people who happen to be nerdy, but have to deal with other things like alien invasions, cursed artifacts and wars? Here is a list of geek-power books for people who like nerdy characters, but want a story about more than just geekiness.

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins (Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2011)

In this historical novel set in Myanmar, 15-year-old Chiko is kidnapped by soldiers and forced into military service, where he is trained and indoctrinated to fight against the Karenni, an ethnic minority group fighting a guerrilla war to keep their lands. Chiko is a quiet, studious boy who loves Lord of the Rings, but he endures the harsh training in the hopes of going home to his family. Instead, he suffers a terrible injury that leaves him at the mercy of Karenni teen Tu Reh, whose family was killed by Burmese soldiers. A great story about the power of forgiveness and the amazing mental strength of an otherwise shy and nerdy boy.

The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier (Great Graphic Novel for Teens, 2011)

Walker Bean is the proto-geek hero of this historical fantasy tale: he obsesses over his grandfather’s naval tall tales and spends most of his time alone tinkering with fantastic inventions. When Walker’s beloved grandfather is stricken ill by a legendary cursed skull, it falls to the timid teen to return the artifact to the witches at bottom of the sea. Walker’s nerdiness proves to be his best asset as he contends with sea monsters, ruthless pirates, and a hot-tempered girl. A swashbucklin’ good time!

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whelan Turner (Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2011)

Fans of Turner’s The Thief and its sequels will be familiar with mild-mannered Sophos, and finally he gets his very own book! Sophos is the designated heir of the nation of Sounis, but couldn’t be more of a disappointment to his ruthless uncle, the king. Gentle Sophos loves poetry and has a hard time getting the respect of his own servants, making him easy prey to the kidnappers who attack his family’s villa and sell him into slavery. As Sophos works to free himself and protect his kingdom, he realizes that he is stronger than he ever imagined. This book is an awesome fantastical coming-of-age story for anyone who has ever doubted their own abilities.

Foiled by Jane Yolen (Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2011)

Aliera Carstairs isn’t a typical schoolgirl: her two passions are kicking ass in fencing and playing Dungeons & Dragons. She’s fine with her position outside the social hierarchy, until she falls hard for her swoony biology lab partner. But is he interested in Aliera, or in the mysterious, ruby-handled fencing foil which lets her see “imaginary” creatures? An excellent urban fantasy with some real girl-power action.

Now it’s time for you to weigh in. What’s your favorite “geek power” story? What caused the nerd revolution? Am I using the term “nerd” and “geek” incorrectly? Tell us in the comments!

— Maria Kramer is currently reading Ganymede by Cherie Priest

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Maria Kramer

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