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Children's Fiction Boys & Men

Word Nerd

by (author) Susin Nielsen

Initial publish date
May 2010
Boys & Men, General, Words
Recommended Age
9 to 12
Recommended Grade
4 to 7
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2010
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2008
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Download Teacher’s Guide

Where to buy it


Twelve-year-old Ambrose is a glass-half-full kind of guy. A self-described “friendless nerd,” he moves from place to place every couple of years with his overprotective mother, Irene. When some bullies at his new school almost kill him by slipping a peanut into his sandwich — even though they know he has a deathly allergy — Ambrose is philosophical. Irene, however, is not and decides that Ambrose will be home-schooled.

Alone in the evenings when Irene goes to work, Ambrose pesters Cosmo, the twenty-five-year-old son of the Greek landlords who live upstairs. Cosmo has just been released from jail for breaking and entering to support a drug habit. Quite by accident, Ambrose discovers that they share a love of Scrabble and coerces Cosmo into taking him to the West Side Scrabble Club, where Cosmo falls for Amanda, the club director. Posing as Ambrose’s Big Brother to impress her, Cosmo is motivated to take Ambrose to the weekly meetings and to give him lessons in self-defense. Cosmo, Amanda, and Ambrose soon form an unlikely alliance and, for the first time in his life, Ambrose blossoms. The characters at the Scrabble Club come to embrace Ambrose for who he is and for their shared love of words. There’s only one problem: Irene has no idea what Ambrose is up to.

In this brilliantly observed novel, author Susin Nielsen transports the reader to the world of competitive Scrabble as seen from the honest yet funny viewpoint of a boy who’s searching for acceptance and for a place to call home.

About the author

Susin Nielsen got her start feeding cast and crew on the popular television series, Degrassi Junior High. They hated her food, but they saw a spark in her writing. Nielsen went on to pen sixteen episodes of the hit TV show. Since then, Nielsen has written for over 20 Canadian TV series. Her first young adult novel, Word Nerd, was published in 2008 to critical acclaim. It won multiple Young Readers’ Choice Awards, as did her second novel, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom. Her third novel, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, was published in August 2012. It went on to win the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award, the Canadian Library Association’s Children’s Book of the Year Award, and a number of Young Readers’ Choice Awards. Author Wally Lamb named it his top YA pick for 2012 in his “First Annual Wally Awards,” and recently Rolling Stone magazine put it at #27 in their list of “Top 40 Best YA Novels.” Her books have been translated into multiple languages. Susin’s new novel, We Are All Made of Molecules, will be published in Canada, the US and the UK in Spring of 2015. She lives in Vancouver with her family and two naughty cats.

Susin Nielsen's profile page


  • Winner, Red Maple Award
  • Nominated, Canadian Library Association - Book of the Year for Children

Editorial Reviews

“This is a tender, often funny story with some really interesting characters. It will appeal to word nerds, but even more to anyone who has ever longed for acceptance or had to fight unreasonable parental restrictions.”
Starred Review from School Library Journal
“…a beautifully drawn character…. [a] funny, wry tale, a tale that involves a lot of Scrabble (at the championship level), the reformation of an ex-con/druggie and the coming-into-himself of a boy. And there’s a bit of love, too, actually.”
The Globe and Mail

Librarian Reviews

Word Nerd

Ambrose Bukowski, 12 3⁄4, has no fashion sense, no people skills and is a perfect target for school bullies. And he’s deathly allergic to peanuts. But one thing he has done successfully is to create a total fantasy world full of great friends and invitations to birthday parties to make his excessively overprotective mother, Irene, feel a little less guilty about having moved them once again (because Ambrose never had friends in Edmonton, Regina or Kelowna). But his plan backfires spectacularly and Ambrose nearly dies when bullies at his Vancouver school try to see if he really is allergic to peanuts after all.

So mom decides to pull Ambrose from seventh grade and have him do correspondence courses from home. And it all works fine until Ambrose gets bored and discovers something that he really truly is good at – Scrabble. But being 123⁄4 with an excessively overprotective mother and no social life curtails Ambrose’s Scrabble ambitions until he becomes friends with the now-reformed. formerly no-good, ex-con son of his upstairs landlords, becomes a member of the West Side Scrabble Club and participates in his first proper Scrabble tournament – all the time telling white lies, forging signatures and generally sneaking around behind his mother’s back!

Word Nerd moves as fast as a World Scrabble competition game and has a game sense of humour that will remind young readers of Richard Scrimger, but in creating Ambrose Bukowski, Susin Nielsen has done a fine job in bringing to life a first-class nerd whose very limitations make him a most extraordinary person who young readers will want to see more of. What Nielsen does best is to let Ambrose just be Ambrose with all his idiosyncracies and to allow other characters in the novel to gradually come to terms with accepting him as he is – including his excessively overprotective mother. And Nielsen has a lovely comic touch in creating around Ambrose an interesting circle of adult friends who are every bit as unique as he is!

If the novel has a flaw, it’s in Nielsen’s portrait of Ambrose’s mother – as she seems more a caricature than a serious character and her constant hysterical reactions to anything that “threatens” Ambrose too often strikes a false note in an otherwise invigoratingly refreshing new voice in fiction for the tween set.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Fall 2008. Vol.31 No.4.

Word Nerd

Twelve-year-old Ambrose is a selfdescribed “friendless nerd” who moves from place to place every couple of years with his overprotective mother. When he forms an unlikely alliance with Cosmo and Amanda, Ambrose blossoms for the first time in his life.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2009.

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