Book Review: Worser by Jennifer Ziegler
A bullied 12-year-old boy must find a new normal after his mother has a stroke and his life is turned upside down.
William Wyatt Orser, a socially awkward middle schooler, 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.
Meet Worser—William Wyatt Orser, or, W. Orser. You want to meet Worser. Trust me. You’ll finish this novel and want to go back and look at all his Masterwork lists and make some of your own. He’s smart, weird, and so vulnerable and lonely you will just want to be his best friend.
That description up there says an awful lot about the plot, true, but it doesn’t really capture the amazing voice of Worser and the real challenges and changes he is facing. As readers watch him adjust to living with his mother, post-stroke, and his aunt (who has such good intentions but is like the exact opposite of Worser and the way he’s used to living), we see him choose to lose himself in words and lists while desperately trying to cling to the life he knew before (just Worser and his clever, quick-witted mom). Budget cuts restrict the school library’s hours and Worser goes off in search of a new hiding place, landing at a local bookstore run by a rather cranky guy who reluctantly lets Worser hang out there, eventually also letting the literary club (run by Worser’s crush) use the store as a meeting space, too. It’s here that Worser begins to make some connections and step outside of himself a teensy tiny bit. But it’s not like suddenly things are great. He’s still awkward. He still has to go home to a mom who is nothing like the mother he’s always known and to an aunt who makes him bonkers. He’s still grieving and lonely and not sure what choices to make to make things better (and, in fact, he makes some choices that make things a lot worse). But things are changing, hopefully for the better, even if it all looks like an utter mess leading up to these changes.
Full of heart, this book features a character readers won’t soon forget. Powerful, emotional, and so clever. Now I’m off to reread some of Worser, I mean Worder’s, lists again.
Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 03/15/2022
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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