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Literature / N.E.R.D.S.

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Entering the Playground...

N.E.R.D.S. is a series of books by Michael Buckley.

There's a spy agency underneath Nathan Hale Elementary School. Its agents are five misfits, the kind of ultra-geeks that get bullied every day. They're nerds. And that's their cover for being N.E.R.D.S. (members of the National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society). They have been doing pretty well...until former bully Jackson Jones accidentally discovers their headquarters, and the director invites him to join the team. It goes downhill from there.

Books in the series:

  1. National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society
  2. M is For Mama's Boy
  3. The Cheerleaders of Doom
  4. The Villain Virus
  5. Attack of The BULLIES

Examples of Tropes Founds in N.E.R.D.S Are:

  • A Day in the Limelight: Each book is told through a different team member's point of view and expands on their home life.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • The reason the team was created in the first place. Kids are far more adaptable to new ideas and technology than adults who have become set in their ways.
    • A more scaled version is Gerdie's parents who are unable, unwilling or both to stop Gerdie's sisters (triplet) Luanne and Linda; this is one of the main factors in Gerdie's Face–Heel Turn.
  • Alliance of Alternates: It's a plot point that Matilda needs to work alongside many of her Alternate Universe selves to beat Heathcliff in Book 3.
  • Alliterative Family: Matilda's six older brothers are named Marky, Max, Michael, Moses, Mickey and Mobi. Her mother is named Mi-Sun, but her American name is Molly. Only the father, Ben, doesn't follow this pattern.
  • Alpha Bitch: Tessa Lipton from Book 5: Attack of The Bullies, who basically rules Sugarland Academy and is the president's daughter. The school's old principal actually quit because Tessa bullied her with mean texts.

  • Alternate Universe: In The Cheerleaders of Doom, a girl builds a device that lets her travel to another universe. She goes on a robbery spree through the other universes to pay for radical plastic surgery. At the climax of the book, Matilda teams up with dozens of alternate versions of herself to battle the book's main villain. The lead of them is from a universe where Agent Brand's brother didn't die; Brand is a mixture of delighted and ready to cry at The Reveal.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The last book ends with the NERDS team tasked with thwarting yet another supervillain's evil plot.
    Brand: All right. It's time to get to work, NERDS. Let's go beat up some bad guys.
  • The Atoner:
    • Once Jackson realizes how mean he used to be, he goes out of his way to be nicer to his classmates. by the end of the 1st book, his teammates forgive him.
    • When Gerdie realizes just what she helped Healthcliff do in Book 3, she's willing to do almost anything to make up for it.
  • Badass Bookworm:
    • Gerdie/Mathlete. It was said that she could solve complex problems to the point of it being EXTREMELY useful in battle.
    • Technically this applies to all of the spies except Jackson. In the first book, Matilda counters Jackson's whining about how it's not fair he's having to fight her with a backscratcher by saying she once won a fight with a mug of hot chocolate and a jelly doughnut and then proceeds to swap weapons with him and cream him with the scratcher.
  • Basement-Dweller: Albert Nesbitt, the villain of Book 2. He's 37, still lives with his mother and spends so much time in his basement that he rarely sees sunlight.
  • Beneath Notice: The entire purpose of using nerdy schoolchildren as superspies- nobody ever gives them a second thought. Until one day Jackson Jones gets curious...
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Duncan is an extremely kind person. When Heathcliff returns in Book 2 to threaten the N.E.R.D.S. team? Duncan punches out his front teeth.
  • Big Ol' Unibrow: Matilda Choi, A.K.A. Wheezer has one.
  • Braces of Orthodontic Overkill: Jackson Jones gets a pair of these, which radically changes his life and leads to him being recruited into the N.E.R.D.S. The braces are then enhanced into Doctor Octopus arms that can take just about any shape Jackson can think of.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: The central plot of The Villain Virus. Rogue nanobots infect people's brains, causing them to become super villains.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Despite his jockish demeanor, Jackson has proven time and again to be just as smart as his teammates (and in some ways, more educated than they are, namely social matters since his teammates all have varying degrees of social awkwardness) and a natural born spy. But he has admitted that he prefers to coast on his looks and charm rather than put in the effort.
  • Brought Down to Badass:
    • In Book 2, Healthcliff gets his hypnotic teeth knocked out by Duncan, rendering his upgrades useless. He proceeds to be the Man Behind the Man of Book 3.
    • Also in Book 2, Duncan has his upgrades removed for both his own safety and security reasons. After a period of Heroic Blue Screen of Death, he comes back to stop Heathcliff nearly singlehandedly and with minimal gadgets.
    • Gerdie/Mathlete lost her upgrades when her family moved, causing her intelligence to drop back to normal genius. She still manages to make the device Healthcliff prods her into building with minimum trouble in Book 3.
  • Bully Turned Buddy: In Book 1, Jackson becomes Fire-Forged Friends with the very misfits he used to pick on.
  • Character Development: As part of the A Day in the Limelight storytelling method, each spy gets some over the course of their books.
    • Book 1: Jackson learns that his bullying ways weren't funny but rather cruel, that his "cool" friends were totally fair weather only and that there's more to life than being cool in school.
    • Book 2: Duncan learns that his gadgets are not necessary for him to be an excellent spy. He also learns to appreciate his family, with special focus on his father's fondness for old-school equipment.
    • Book 3: Matilda learns that her hatred for cheerleaders is as irrational and mean as Jackson's former friends bullying of her and her teammates and that it's okay for her to like girlish things. Quote one of her Alternate Universe counterparts: "No one is 100% anything."
    • Book 4: Julio learns to have more confidence in his unpredictable mind, and use it to come up with creative strategies.
    • Book 5: Ruby learns that, though her family bickers relentlessly and derails all her plans for an organized life, they still love each other in the end, and that's a miracle that she shouldn't take for granted. Heathcliff, the Deuteragonist of this book, learns that though he had a miserable childhood, he still had good friends, a loving family, and a bright future, and that he had no one but himself to blame for throwing it all away in his anger. However, he also learns that he now has a second chance and should treasure it with everything he has.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer: Matilda going to Heathcliff in Book 3 for help with stopping Gerdie comes off this way.
  • Cursed with Awesome:
    • The N.E.R.D.S. agents' traits. Despite getting in the way of their lives, it's what allow them to get their upgrades and making them useful in combat.
    • The Hyena has one naturally and is where she gets her moniker from, she has the stupidest sounding laugh ever and anyone who hears it is unable to stop themselves from laughing at it.
  • Dean Bitterman: Mr. Dehaven, the principal of Nathan Hale Elementary. He's an all-around jerk to both his faculty and students as well as a minor antagonist to Jackson in the first book, almost forcing him to repeat the fifth grade.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Ruby and Matilda towards Jackson.
  • Disguised in Drag: The school lunch lady, who pilots the team's jet, is actually a guy dressed in drag.
  • Dislikes the New Guy: It's faster to list Jackson's new teammates who do like him at the start of Book 1. Justified since Jackson used to bully the Nerd Herd and was added to the team despite their protests. Heathcliff hates Jackson the most, however, having taken the brunt of the latter's torment in the past.
  • Embarrassing Nickname:
    • The N.E.R.D.S. agents' code names can be this (Braceface, Pufferfish, Wheezer and Gluestick being the main examples) but the characters in question embrace them.
    • "Gruesome Gerdie" on the other hand is despised by the recipient.
    • Matilda isn't fond of the moniker "Maddie" which she receives at cheerleading camp but she comes to accept it.
  • Et Tu, Brute?:
    • The N.E.R.D.S. team's reaction to Heathcliff's Face–Heel Turn. Duncan takes it especially hard since he and Heathcliff were best friends before the betrayal. For his own part, Heathcliff feels that this trope applies to their refusing to help him destroy the world.
    • In Book 3, Matilda's cheerleading teammates have this reaction to The Reveal that she wasn't actually planning on helping them and is going to leave the team, forcing them to drop out of the competition.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Healthcliff in Book 1 and Gerdie in Book 3, though the emotions that lead to it had been building since her family's move forced her to give her position at NERDS and the accompanying upgrades to her intellect.
  • "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: The climax of Book 4 has Flinch shrunk to microscopic size and injected into Heathcliff's bloodstream in order to destroy the villain virus from within. He gets some pretty awesome Powered Armor to protect him. Things go horribly wrong on the outside, leaving him with four juvenile delinquents guiding him through the body and the Antagonist and Miss Information following him inside.
  • Fastball Special: What saves the day in the first book; Jackson gets Flinch to throw him into Dr. Jigsaw's machine (which features a giant magnet) and destroy it with his braces (which are still magnetized even after its upgrades are destroyed).
    Jackson: Have you ever tossed a football?
    Flinch: Once. My older brother tried to show me.
    Jackson: Imagine I'm a football.
  • The Film of the Book: An animated movie is set to be developed by Elton John's Rocket Pictures. The script will be written by the author, Michael Buckley himself.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: How Duncan beats Heathcliff and Matilda's preferred fighting style.
  • Hate Plague: The Villain Virus of Book 4, which creates anger and resentment in people, gives them great ambitions of evil and makes them take on over-the-top supervillain personas. It's caused by evil nanomachines coming from a comatose Heathcliff.
  • Heel–Face Turn: When Gerdie realizes what Healthcliff is actually up to in Book 3, she's horrified and rejoins the N.E.R.D.S. to stop him.
  • Hidden Depths: Head cheerleader Tiffany may be a total Alpha Bitch and Brainless Beauty but she's an effective leader and is deeply committed to cheerleading. Both traits end up highly impressing Matilda.
    • The books themselves have this. They're generally marketed as Sci-Fi/Comedy blends but manage to drop several timely aesops on the readers without coming off as preachy.
  • Hook Hand: One of Simon's/Heathcliff's main thugs who later becomes the villain "The Antagonist" ends up with one of these at the beginning of Book 2.
  • Informed Flaw: Each of the N.E.R.D.S. has a specific nerdy trait that basically defines them as a character. They are all very pronounced in the first book, but as the series goes on, they all (with the exception of Jackson's braces and Flinch's hyperactivity) become this trope. Matilda is never shown suffering from her asthma; Duncan eats paste a total of maybe two times throughout the series. Ruby is the most egregious example, however. In the first book, it's made clear that she is allergic to just about EVERYTHING, up to and including abstract concepts. But by the time book five comes around, she rarely displays any symptoms and is in fact revealed to have a pet dog, which is one of the most common allergies out there.
    • It also applies to Matilda's estranged parents. We are told that they are constantly fighting, but we never see them fight.
    • Ruby's allergies and Matilda's parents not being shown fighting could be justified. The allergies could just be dying down to a more manageable level as she gets older (they might be there but they're not going to randomly wig out and make living life hard, instead being controlled by her upgrade to only flare up when necessary); in Real Life, it's common for allergies to become less severe and even disappear as a person gets older; it could also be possible that the dog she owns is one that for whatever reason, doesn't make her allergies wig out, which has been known to happen with all sorts of animal allergies. And the parents' fights not being shown could be justified by their not wanting to actually fight in front of their kids (one of whom is the point of view character) but the fact that Matilda knows it's bad is also reasonable because kids are more perceptive than people usually give them credit for and Matilda is quite brilliant.
  • Irony: Jackson is a former "Mister Utterly Cool" and still carries a bit of that attitude; on the cover of Book 3, his teammates all look epic with their costumes and weapons...while he looks like The Leisure Suit Larry.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Despite his attitude and everything that's happened since, Heathcliff was right that Jackson shouldn't have been sent out in the field as soon as he was; he had no spy training and was used to leading a team, not being part of one where everyone is equally important with leadership changing as needed.
  • Jerk Jock: Jackson's friends from before his braces. They kick him out as soon as it turns out he's no longer able to play football and start tormenting him like they do the other nerds at school.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jackson. He honestly didn't realize how badly he was hurting the N.E.R.D.S. agents and desperately wants to make up for it. He has a few moments of jerkish behavior in the rest of the books but his heart's clearly in the right place and he's become quite dedicated to his teammates.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Heathcliff was angry about the treatment he and his NERDS teammates received; understandable. He wanted to make the world a better place for them; sure, why not? Using a deranged villain to rearrange the continents and destroy civilization?
  • "Just Joking" Justification:
    • Jackson's belief about his treatment of his teammates before he joined N.E.R.D.S.; Duncan helps him see the error of his ways.
    • Gerdie's mother uses this for Luanne, Linda and their friends' treatment of Gerdie.
  • Lovable Jock: Jackson's ultimate characterization. While he doesn't play sports much, he definitely has a jock attitude. He's also a good kid who has genuinely made friends with his former victims.
    • His brother too.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch:
    • By Book 3, anything bad that happens to Heathcliff feels like this considering he abandoned the best friends he ever had just because he couldn't wait for adulthood, when he'd be successful and his bullies wouldn't.
    • While it's a bit overboard, Gerdie ruining her sisters' cheerleading team's chances of winning a major competition is a bit cathartic to read given how badly they treated her.
  • Kid Hero: All the current NERDS are kids in elementary school (middle school starting with Book 4). Children are specifically selected for the program because they make the best spies and operatives have to retire when they turn 18.
  • Mass Super-Empowering Event: Happens in climax of the series finale. To stop the super-upgraded BULLIES, Heathcliff offers superpowers to just about every child in Thomas Knowlton Middle School to fight as part of a Badass Army. Heathcliff's plan works, with the army of kids helping to defeat the BULLIES. In the epilogue, most if not all of them are recruited into NERDS.
  • Motor Mouth: Flinch, to the point where half of his dialogue is written out as gibberish.
  • Nanomachines: Microscopic robots called nanobytes are the source of the team's superpowers, turning their weaknesses into strengths.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: In Book 3, Gerdie changes her appearance so thoroughly the NERDS team no longer knows what she looks like. Matilda is forced to go undercover as a cheerleader since a specific camp is their only lead and Ruby is allergic to pompoms and being preppy.
  • Nice Guy: Duncan and Flinch are this trope from the moment Jackson joins N.E.R.D.S.
  • Official Couple: Agent Brand and Ms. Holiday as of Book 3.
  • Parents as People: In general, our heroes' parents love them...they just don't understand their kids and their amazing abilities and in Duncan's case, intellect. For the most part, they're at least trying and the kids learn that they need to meet their parents in the middle.
    • In the first book, Jackson's dad is totally oblivious to Jackson's troubles at school and his other son's getting cut from the high school football team but in the end, he does love his boys very much.
  • The Psycho Rangers: In Book 5, Miss Information creates an evil team of superpowered kids, fittingly named BULLIES. Their upgrade chair works in reverse, enhancing strengths instead of weaknesses. Miss Information even makes the Dumb Vinci/The Antagonist dress like the Lunchlady.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Flinch lives alone with his grandma, Mama Rosa.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Due to being allergic to changes in the time-space continuum, Ruby is able to remember her teammates.
  • Sanity Slippage: Good grief, Heathcliff. It's almost a mercy he's going to be sedated indefinitely after Book 3.
  • Secret-Keeper: Jackson's father and brother are told about N.E.R.D.S. by the end of Book 1. Duncan's family has known since he joined N.E.R.D.S. and Matilda's parents join the fold in Book 3.
  • Self-Serving Memory: Jackson spent most of the first book believing that he was popular and that teasing and picking on his nerdy classmates was harmless fun. When Duncan shows him a video of him bullying his teammates, he's stunned and horrified at how cruel he was.
  • Sequel Hook: The general way the books end, with a stinger that hints at what's going to happen in the next book.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: While not really dwelt on as much as you'd expect with this trope, Matilda does clean up well when forced to for infiltrate a cheerleading camp.
  • Social Media Before Reason: McKenna, a cheerleader in Book 3, who tweets everything, including her looting of an alternate universe.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: In book five, Heathcliff, after regaining his memories is tempted to return to evil and makes a beeline for the upgrade chair. Instead, he gets sent inside his mind where another version of himself tells him that he could have had a happy life. Heathcliff finally admits Being Evil Sucks, but argues that there's nothing he can do about it, right?
    The Other Heathcliff: Just stop.
    Heathcliff: Just stop?
    The Other Heathcliff: Just stop. You have more important things to do, you know. It's time to use use that big brain for something good. Go save the world.
  • Suck E. Cheese's: Marty Mozzarella's, the NERDS' backup HQ in Book 5. On the surface, it's a highly unsanitary children's playpen with food that only Flinch likes, but the staff are really scientists and the arcade machines are really highly advanced supercomputers.
  • Technologically Blind Elders: One reason children are used as superspies? They handle technology better than adults.
  • That Man Is Dead:
    • Heathcliff does this with his actual name, his original code name and his ID of Simon when Matilda greets him in Book 3. He asks to be called Screwball of all things.
    • It's N.E.R.D.S. policy to do this for agents who are suspected to have died and agents who either age out or move away, with every memory and record of their existence being erased in the former situation and the removal of their upgrades and their code name in the latter ones.
  • Trapped in Another World: Gerdie's fate at the end of Book 3, in order to trap a super-upgraded Heathcliff in an alternate universe (where all of humanity was abducted by aliens) along with her. Unfortunately, Heathcliff finds his own way out with his nigh-omnipotent powers. Gerdie sends a final message throughout the multiverse warning them about Heathcliff and prepares to rescue the inhabitants of that universe from the aliens.
  • Turn the Other Cheek: What the attitude of the N.E.R.D.S. agents is supposed to be about the bullying they face. They mostly succeed though Duncan has the most success.
  • Unwillingly Girly Tomboy: The plot of Book 3 has tomboy Matilda get a makeover and lessons from the Hyena in order to infiltrate a cheerleading camp.
  • V-Formation Team Shot: The cover of each book. The center character changes depending on who that specific book focuses on.
  • We Used to Be Friends: The original N.E.R.D.S. agents' attitude about Heathcliff; Duncan takes it especially hard.