The Nerdy and the Dirty by B.T. Gottfried was an entertaining and quirky young adult read, a romance between Benedict, an Asperger’s-type hero with a messed-up relationship with his mentally ill father, and Pen, a sex-obsessed heroine with a messed-up relationship with her religious zealot mother.
Benedict and Pen begin on the periphery of each other’s lives and end up at the same winter resort during vacation, where they hook up and ostensibly fall in love. This seemed to happen through the medium of “being real” with each other, sexually and via soul-baring conversation. While I think both of these things can deepen relationships, it seemed a little surprising for them to actually be in love at the point in the narrative where it came up. I definitely believed that they were in lust, though.
Benedict provides some laughs in his lack of self-awareness, but they’re the laughs of an audience that knows a little too much more than a character and feels a little sorry for him. However, he redeems himself later as he becomes more sympathetic and self-aware. Pen thinks she’s a freak because she thinks about sex so much, and Benedict is free of embarrassment and has no concerns about sexual freakiness, only social awkwardness.
Pen was a more inconsistent character than Benedict; her relationships with both her boyfriend Paul and her parents were deeply dysfunctional. Pen’s mother’s religious zealotry and Pen’s conflicted feelings about sex made sense in theory but struck an odd note in the book. It bothered me that Pen was so convinced she was a freak and that she accepted a lot of abuse from others, but I liked the honesty of the book and the characters, even if it didn’t really work as a romance.