Overachievers and Geeks: Two Nonfiction Books for Us YA Writers

In the spirit of Random Acts of Publicity, I want to plug two nonfiction books by Alexandra Robbins that I read recently:
  • The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids (2007)

  • The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School (2011)

In both, Robbins studies real high school kids, and the best parts of the books read like good YA fiction. That’s hard to do—making real life (and some theoretical stuff) as interesting as well written characters.

The titles of the books really do tell you what they’re about. Book one is about those overachievers trying to get into Harvard and Stanford and the like—and about how really ultracompetitive it is these days. (Who knew there were professional coaches you could hire to make sure you got into these universities?)

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth is about how the outsiders (the so called freaks and geeks) really are better equipped to take on the world post high school. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

In a smart, entertaining, reassuring book that reads like fiction, Alexandra Robbins manages to cross Gossip Girl with Freaks and Geeks and explain the fascinating psychology and science behind popularity and outcasthood. She reveals that the things that set students apart in high school are the things that help them stand out later in life. Robbins follows seven real people grappling with the uncertainties of high school social life, including:
  • The Loner, who has withdrawn from classmates since they persuaded her to unwittingly join her own hate club;
  • The Popular Bitch, a cheerleading captain both seduced by and trapped within her clique's perceived prestige;
  • The Nerd, whose differences cause students to laugh at him and his mother to needle him for not being "normal";
  • The New Girl, determined to stay positive as classmates harass her for her mannerisms and target her because of her race;
  • The Gamer, an underachiever in danger of not graduating, despite his intellect and his yearning to connect with other students;
  • The Weird Girl, who battles discrimination and gossipy politics in school but leads a joyous life outside of it;
  •  The Band Geek, who is alternately branded too serious and too emo, yet annually runs for class president.

In the middle of the year, Robbins surprises her subjects with a secret challenge--experiments that force them to change how classmates see them. ...

If you’re an educator and/or parent, the theoretical and statistical discussion (in both books) might interest you. However, I found myself flipping past some of this to get back to kids. In both books, Robbins lets the students speak for themselves throughout the year or so that she studied them. That’s pure gold for a writer.

What nonfiction books would you recommend for YA/MG writers? Anybody read Robbin's other books?


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