WORSER, by Jennifer Ziegler, Margaret Ferguson Books, March 15, 2022, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 9-12)
A socially awkward 12-year-old boy learns how to adapt following his mother’s stroke in Jennifer Ziegler’s new middle-grade novel, Worser.
William Wyatt Orser is a wordsmith who, much to his annoyance, acquired the ironically ungrammatical nickname of “Worser” so long ago that few people at school know to call him anything else.
Worser grew up with his mom, a professor of rhetoric and an introvert just like him, in a comfortable routine that involved reading aloud in the evenings, criticizing the grammar of others, ignoring the shabby mess of their house, and suffering the bare minimum of social interactions with others. But recently all that has changed. His mom had a stroke that left her nonverbal, and his Aunt Iris has moved in with her cats, art projects, loud music, and even louder clothes. Home for Worser is no longer a refuge from the unsympathetic world at school that it has been all his life.
Feeling lost, lonely, and overwhelmed, Worser searches for a new sanctuary and ends up finding the Literary Club — a group of kids from school who share his love of words and meet in a used bookstore — something he never dreamed existed outside of his home. Even more surprising to Worser is that the key to making friends is sharing the thing he holds dearest: his Masterwork, the epic word notebook that he has been adding entries to for years.
But relationships can be precarious, and it is up to Worser to turn the page in his own story to make something that endures so that he is no longer seen as Worser and earns a new nickname, Worder. —Synopsis provided by Margaret Ferguson Books
Worser is one of those books that you sort of just fall into and don’t want to put down. At first, the main character is uncomfortably honest, but you quickly come to love his blunt nature. It is who he is, and that’s part of what makes him endearing.
Author Jennifer Ziegler knows her audience, and her writing reflects that. She has the pulse of middle-graders, speaking to them with direct warmth that resonates throughout her novel.
There are many high points in Worser, but for me, it was the title character’s love of words that really set it apart. The very thing that sets him apart, also opens an entirely new world for him. And the exploration of friendship through this lens is truly delightful.
Worser is a fairly quick read that will resonate with readers 10 and older.
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