Word Nerd, by Susan Nielsen, tells the story of a twelve-year-old misfit who finds friendship through Scrabble. Put that way, it doesn't sound exciting, but this book is a great read, with a wry eye for character and relationships.
"The day I almost died, the sky was a bright, brilliant blue--" So Ambrose begins his story. He's an awkward, nerdy boy with a mother so insanely protective that until kindergarten she made him wear a kid harness with a leash whenever they went out. They've moved from Canadian town to Canadian town, and he's made friends in none of them. Finally an inventive and ignorant trio of bullies almost kill him, and his mother decides he'll study at home through a correspondence course. (She keeps him away from computers because of the danger.)
Partly out of boredom, Ambrose becomes fascinated with his landlord's son, who has just returned from prison. Cosmo is a struggling ex-addict with a debt problem hanging over him, a foul mouth, and a lousy attitude. But mutual exploitation leads eventually to friendship between the two lost males, and their relationship is brightened and complicated by the presence of Amanda, leader of the local Scrabble club. As Ambrose the word nerd's Scrabble rankings climb, so do his social skills, his skills of self-defense, and his bravery, until a final confrontation with Cosmo's creditors threatens to ruin everything.
What makes this book so charming is the voice of Ambrose, by turns mature, resigned, childish, and deaf to social niceties. Some parents may be turned offby the seriously bad language of Cosmo and his associates, and I found Ambrose's frequent use of childish potty terms distasteful, but all in all, this story of how an unlikely friendship leads an awkward boy to self-understanding and advocacy could become a favorite of any child, and not just the word nerds among us.