Sunday, August 24, 2014

NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society (NERDS #1) by Michael Buckley

This review was written by: B
Received: Library
Publication Date of Book: September 2009
Stars: (5/5)

"That's your problem, Braceface.  You judge others by what they look like.  You've spent your life putting people into little categories-nerd, geek, athlete, cheerleader, weakling-and you can't imagine they might be more than what you think.  People are always more than what they appear."
-Matilda (a.k.a. Wheezer)

Jackson Jones rules elementary school.  He's the star of the football team, receives decent grades, has a high popularity status, and a group of his own to call his friends.  He spends his days frequently on the field and playing pranks and raids on the nerds of his school.  However, this all changes with a single dentist visit.  He is told that he will now need braces due to the recent discovery of the abnormal amount of teeth that his mouth is harboring.  Wearing awkward braces is not what cool people do, it's what "nerds" have.  Forced to  wear estranged headgear mounted on his face, he is quickly shunned by his peers and those so called friends he used to hang out with.  He's now the object of his past associates' pranks, turning his life around in a complete 360 manner.  Jackson's grades quickly drop, and all he does is "spy" to see all of the ins and outs of everyone at his elementary school, students and teachers alike.

When his snooping leads him to a group of students that abnormally sneeze at the same time, prompting the five to leave their class in a timely fashion, he finds himself in an awkward situation.  After chasing them down the school's hallway, Jackson hides in a locker when the principal comes walking his way.  He can't afford to get in trouble for cutting class.  It's at this time that he falls through the floor of the locker, taking him beneath the school, thanks to an elaborate system built by a group unbeknownst to him.  It's at the end of this journey that Jones finds himself in a lab-like area, surrounded by scientists working on countless inventions.  When he's spotted, he quickly runs into a room that locks behind him.  At this time, people are trying to break down the door to get to the intruder, Jackson, while he is being assessed by some type of computer that's located in the room.  Finding his weakness, his headgear, the computer system gives him the code name "Braceface."  Jackson Jones has no idea what is going on, but he soon passes out in this same room.  When he awakens, he has powers.

Jackson is in the secret headquarters of the super secret spy group, N.E.R.D.S. (National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society).  It consists of a group of five eleven year old boys and girls who save the world on a weekly basis.  No adults suspect children to be more than what they are, little kids who have no idea what's going on around them.  This is what makes N.E.R.D.S. the ideal spy unit, a group of unsuspecting people who are tech savvy.  Using special technology, these eleven-year-old students are able to utilize their biggest weaknesses as a formidable weapons.  This is what happened to Jackson.  He can now use his braces in strange new ways by imagining what he wants them to turn into and then using them to protect himself and fight enemies in their new form.

The former jock decides to join the team of N.E.R.D.S which consists of Ruby ("Pufferfish) who is allergic to countless emotions, actions, and foods, allowing her to be, in a sense, psychic, Matilda ("Wheezer"), a fierce girl with asthma who can use her inhalers to fly and blast people back or create gaping holes, Duncan ("Gluestick") a sweet boy who devours large amounts of glue, allowing him to stick to walls and surfaces with his own paste, Heathcliff ("Choppers") a young lad with abnormally large teeth that can hypnotize people, and Julio ("Flinch"), an extremely hyperactive person that can gather all of the sugar he eats through a harness that gives him the abilities of super strength and high speeds.

Jackson must train with all five of his eleven-year-old teammates so that he may become the best of the best, all while trying to observe their missions and make those he formally bullied turn to him as a friend.  This is no easy task for any person, but Jackson Jones must do it before he is kicked off the team for good.  Their current missions are to stop whoever or whatever is creating the current world crisis: the moving of the seven continents over great distances.  Somehow, the land formations are being made to form what was once Pangaea. When the landmasses come together, they create giant disasters, killing countless people in the process.  Will Jackson, a.k.a. Braceface, be able to be the hero he wants people to see, or will he fall short and be the bully he's been recently known to be?

Countless middle graders will love this book and the rest of its companions in the series!  It was fun, humorous, full of adventure, and an overall good read.  There were two aspects that I really enjoyed in this book.  The first one was how the six main children in this book were all unique and diverse.  This created a great multicultural arrangement and an unforgettable ride for the reader.  The second reason then tied into a theme that struck me multiple times while reading Buckley's excellent book: It's okay to be different.  I think that this is a great message that so many people and children need to read more of.  Sure, the bullying in this book was brief, but it was well addressed.  When Jackson hurt Duncan, Ruby, Heathcliff, Julio, and Matilda, they were just some nerds who blended in with all of the rest of his school.  However, when he spent time with them, he noticed that what made them nerds was unique to their personalities yet it also didn't define them.  People are so much more than what they seem.  This was what he learned after joining N.E.R.D.S.  Jackson also learned that he didn't need to be a bully to be cool or to attract real friends.  He just needed to be Jackson Jones.                  

Teamwork was also important in Buckley's book.  When the gang was fighting or not listening to what the rest were saying and/or doing, things went badly.  They had to notice what everyone was doing to work like a well-oiled machine.  The descriptions were done well, the plot wonderfully executed, and the writing was excellent!  What was really cool about the book was how it was illustrated.  It almost had the feel of a comic book but one geared toward middle graders.  Of course, this was not what it was, it's indeed a full length novel.  Buckley also threw in multiple changes in perspective.  He went from the N.E.R.D.S. characters to the mysterious and crazy, villain.  Full of intrigue and mystery, the ending contained a great twist that left you wanting the next installment.  I recommend that all middle grade students read this.  It's definitely worth it.

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