The Nerdy Dozen: Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind
What a hook! Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind is a gamer geek’s dream come true! Imagine being a thirteen year-old supernerd, specializing in video games. Now imagine that supernerd being not the class freak or the biggest loser this side of the Milky Way, but sought after by NASA for his mad skills with a game controller. I know, right?
Neil is my man, well, boy. Book 1 may have established the who-is-who in his team of elite nerds, but I still fell in love with each of them in Close Encounters. They are all there! Neil Andertol is the ring leader of this crew, but we also have the semi-jock nerd, the bio-nerd, the nerd-nerd, the whoa-he’s-totally-out-there-nerd, and...Well, you get the idea. Each member of Neil’s crew is an individual in themselves, spanning the wide spectrum of nerd-dom. And each character is represented in a clear voice all their own complete with little ticks.
The Nerdy Dozen Book One sets the crew on their first adventure/mission courtesy of the government. When all is said and done, Neil is left with a lackluster vibe for his beloved video games. When you’ve flown the real deal--the actual fighter jet that graces the screen of your fave game--why bother with the second-rate video version? The downgrade pretty much stinks and Neil searches for ways to up the ante on the game front just to get that all-important rush.
Then NASA comes a-callin’ and changes the playing field. A top secret ship has gone missing and NASA needs Neil and his supernerds to find it. After months of study via a confidential game called Shuttle Fury, the team embarks on another mission to save mankind.
Close Encounters is a great, fast-pace adventure for middle grade readers of all ages. It’s full of over-the-top scenarios that only Neil and his crew can overcome. From dehydrated ice cream, to a space shuttle built for chimpanzees, to an actual chimpanzee with the warm-fuzziness of a Siberian winter, the nerdy dozen tackles them all.
But it’s not all warp speed fun and games. Neil has been holding back on his teammates and it comes back to bite him. But Neil handles it in a very thirteen year-old way. Each one of the characters, though they are light-years above the average teen, are very relatable in their actions and dialogue. They make mistakes, but they learn what needs to be done to get the mission on track for success. They also learn what it takes to be an effective team.
Even though Jeff Miller has our nerds hopping from Neil’s home, to a museum, to NASA, to the moon, to Mars, and tailing an asteroid, the setting never felt off to me. Each stop on this journey has adequate descriptions to put me right in there with Neil. By the way, I seriously want to visit The Squid. Super cool.
Will this book appeal to middle grade readers? The quick answer, yes, absolutely. Close Encounters is just the kind of out of this world adventure about crazy possibilities and believing in yourself, as well as your friends, that any kid (or kid at heart) can enjoy. Neil and his friends are nerds, the biggest nerds you’ll find, and they know it. And being a nerd has never been cooler.