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Book Review

Nerve by Jeanne Ryan has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Vee is a mild-mannered high school junior. She works behind the scenes on school plays doing make-up and costumes. Several months earlier, Vee fell asleep in her car while it was running in the closed garage. Her parents are watchful and nervous, still unconvinced it was an accident.

Vee has a crush on the play’s male lead, Matthew. He flirts with her. Vee’s gorgeous friend, Sydney, plays the female lead. Everyone’s talking about a new reality game on the internet called NERVE where players complete by participating in difficult or embarrassing dares. People can also sign up to be Watchers, meaning they follow participants and try to capture their dares on camera. Participants and Watchers receive prizes. Watchers are compensated for taking good footage or getting participants to break the rules. Participants who receive a lot of “likes” or comments from the internet audience advance to harder, live challenges.

On a whim, Vee signs up to do a simple challenge. Another back-stage cast member named Tommy goes with her to be her cameraman and bodyguard. She has to pour water on herself in a coffee shop while shouting that cold water makes her hot. She realizes after the video has gone live that the water soaked through her white T-shirt leaving little to the imagination. At first, Vee is mortified. The internet audience quickly begins commenting, and friends (including Matthew) are impressed by her bravery. Spurred on by the encouragement of her peers and the offer of a pair of expensive boots from the illusive NERVE producers, she agrees to another dare.

Vee’s second dare involves returning to the coffee shop. She will meet a boy named Ian, whom the NERVE creators have selected. She has to get Ian to order her a drink while she stands in the middle of the store singing “One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” The attractive Ian whispers that his dare includes getting her to announce loudly that he’s good in bed. The two help each other complete their dares. Audiences like the two kids together, so Vee receives a text from NERVE inviting her to do another dare with Ian. Each time, she’s offered things like clothing, phones or spa treatments. Often, these are things she has pinned or marked on other online sites. Somehow, NERVE has access to all of her preferences like this. They are also able to decide whose messages she can receive on her phone and when.

Ian and Vee’s next dare involves going to a bowling alley and each asking 10 people for condoms. When they arrive, they realize the bowling alley has been rented out by an abstinence group for the evening. Their requests meet with frustration and rage as the teens they approach feel they’re being taunted. Vee feels uncomfortable with the perception that she’s mocking people who haven’t done anything to deserve it. The kids manage to complete their dare just before being kicked out of the bowling alley.

Despite Vee’s discomfort during her challenges, the adrenaline rush propels her forward. She’s starting to like Ian, and it’s exciting to have so many fans. It’s also fun to get expensive prizes. She accepts another dare, in which she and Ian must go to a shady part of town. Vee must get a man to offer her $100 for sexual services while Ian must get someone to offer him sex for free. They don’t actually have to perform the acts.

The kids interact with prostitutes, pimps and creepy men in cars, making sure to get everything on camera. Vee is also approached by a kind man who says he and his wife run a ministry for girls like her. Watchers lurk in the shadows, taping footage of their own. When Ian’s dare is complete, Vee gets a man to accept her offer. He turns out to be an undercover cop, and she and Ian make a run for it.

While many friends are encouraging Vee to continue in the game, people like Tommy are urging her to get out while she can. During one of the performances of their play, Vee sees Matthew and Sydney kissing for an especially long time on stage. She feels Sydney has betrayed her and Matthew has been leading her on.

Vee’s next dare feels more challenging because it involves her friends. She must confront Sydney about stealing Matthew. She also has to insult Sydney’s performance in the play. Ian has to go with her and embarrass one of Vee’s friends. Vee is no longer devastated about Matthew since she and Ian have kissed and are falling for one another. Vee and Ian reluctantly complete their dares, both feeling bad for what they’ve done afterward. Then they receive a text inviting them to participate in the grand prize dares.

Vee is prepared to scrap the game, even if it means forfeiting everything else she’s won. Then the NERVE people send her a text offering a full ride to fashion school. Ian is offered things like a car and emancipation from his parents, since the biggest thing he wants is his freedom. The kids agree to take the dare. All they’re told is that they must spend three hours in a VIP lounge at a swanky dance venue called Club Poppy. Once there, Ian and Vee are interviewed separately and invited to freshen up. Then they enter a room with five other finalists, and the doors are locked.

At first, the talking heads of the NERVE game appear on screens and invite the kids to get to know each other. They provide a cabinet full of alcohol for the teens. Ian and Vee are hesitant to let their guards down by having too much alcohol. They drink a little to be social and watch the other contestants. There is one heterosexual couple, one lesbian couple and another guy. Most of the others are eager to help themselves to the alcohol.

The NERVE moderators continue to offer cash prizes for the kids to do various activities. They even give a certain amount of money for each drink consumed. Two couples go into private bedrooms where they’re taped doing sexual activities. They win prizes and their online popularity ratings rise. Each person has to call an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend live and tell them whatever the NERVE people have scripted. Then each person has to call the parents of another participant and tell them their child has been in a terrible accident.

Later, each teen is sent to a room alone. Vee finds herself sitting in a replica of her car. She smells gas, like she did the night she fell asleep in the garage. She ponders whether she really did try to kill herself, or if it was an accident like she’s always believed. The group is then ordered to choose a victim from among them. Since Vee has a weaker personality and has gotten on the bad side of one of the lesbians, she wins the vote. The kids are all given guns. Throughout the evening, various participants bury their emotions and convince themselves the NERVE creators wouldn’t let anything really serious happen to them. Nevertheless, the guns feel real, and the kids are told to point them at Vee.

To make things worse for Vee, NERVE sends Sydney and Tommy into the suite. She feels the need to protect them as well as herself from the other contestants. Vee cries out to the viewing audience to call 9-1-1 because things have gotten out of hand. But the audience believes it’s all part of the game. Ian and Vee finally figure out that there is an audience on the other side of one of the panels to their room. They break the two-way mirror, temporarily kidnap one of the NERVE backers who was watching, and make their escape with Sydney and Tommy.

A month later, Vee is still grounded. She is released from the house to go on runs, where she meets Ian. They do their best to stay out of the limelight, even though former fans keep watching them. They still try to let audiences know the real dangers involved in NERVE. At the end of the book, Vee begins receiving texts from NERVE, inviting her to play the game again.

Christian Beliefs

While Vee is pretending to be a prostitute, a man drives up and offers to help her. He and his wife have a ministry to help get hookers off the street. Vee thinks the man must have a higher power on his side if he’s having to stare down pimps on a regular basis. Vee prays that the boy will know she’s just doing a dare. But she says she suspects God won’t be taking her side in this situation.

Other Belief Systems

Vee says that her behavior in the game doesn’t match her shy, hard-working, loyal traits as a Capricorn. Vee writes a status update that says Karma does not apply to her. Later she believes she probably really does have bad Karma because she’s hurt so many people. At the abstinence party, Vee recognizes someone she knows.

Authority Roles

Vee’s parents are concerned that she tried to kill herself. Months have passed, but they’re still paranoid and upset when she’s the smallest bit late for curfew. The illusive NERVE creators and backers are unscrupulous when it comes to their dares. They offer prizes and money to get kids to act in dangerous and immoral ways.


The Lord’s name is used in vain often. Words including the f-word s---, WTF, h---, d--n, a--, slut, whore, sucks, crap, p---, b--ch, homo, skank, b--tard, p---y and balls also appear. Characters flip each other the middle finger. Some of the pro-abstinence teens call Vee names like b--ch and whore.

Ian is shown a video of a man slapping a little boy and dragging him into a car. NERVE producers created the scene to remind Ian of his painful childhood and elicit a reaction.


Vee says perverts who follow NERVE get off on watching participants’ terror. Matthew flirts with Vee by taking her phone and superimposing her face on a large-breasted woman in lingerie. He also tells Vee what he believes her own breast size to be. Vee chides herself for not wearing a better bra during the dare in which she pours water on herself. The online audience makes crude comments about her wet, see-through T-shirt.

Sydney encourages Vee in her first dare by saying it wasn’t like she was naked and that a lot of celebrities got their starts with leaked sex tapes. Vee suggests her online admirers are probably drunken geeks who have nothing better to do than watch cleavage shots in slow motion. To help Ian complete a dare, Vee loudly announces to the coffee shop that he is good in bed.

In another dare, Vee and Ian ask pro-abstinence kids for condoms. Vee must also sing a very explicit song about “getting laid.” Ian tells Vee the studies done on abstinence programs show the most successful ones don’t disparage safe-sex practices. Because of that, he rationalizes that he and Vee are doing the teens a favor by making them aware of condoms. Signs about saving oneself for marriage hang on the walls of the bowling alley. After they complete the dare, Ian laughs about how they were able to escape the group of vicious virgins.

In another dare, Ian and Vee have to get people in a shady part of town to agree to have sex with them. Vee contemplates how to make her outfit look sluttier. Ian says prostitutes wear bright lipstick to advertise they’re offering services of the “oral variety.” The young prostitutes Vee and Ian meet wear skimpy camisoles that reveal jiggling flesh even though the weather is cold. Vee notes that even with all of the porn available on the internet, people apparently still want to have face-to-face experiences in the nasty cubicles they see during their dare.

Vee asks one man if he wants a three-way sexual experience or an orgy. Men make lewd comments as they drive through looking for prostitutes. Vee can sense the hopelessness in the real hookers she encounters. She says she’s glad when the dare is over, and she doesn’t have to be cold or negotiate with horny older men.

When Ian and Vee kiss, she says her body aches in all the right spots. Vee notes that Sydney’s online page is full of Syd’s bikini shots. The finalists laugh about how one couple was dared to go into a sex store and talk about how all of the gadgets were used. One girl says the NERVE site is better than hook-up sites because she met a hot guy by playing the game.

Two of the female contestants are lovers. They joke about joining the Mile High club on the plane ride to the contest. NERVE hosts invite the contestants for play Seven Minutes in Heaven in one of the private rooms with anyone they choose. The other heterosexual couple and the lesbian couple accept the challenge. One of the lesbians invites the lone male to join them as part of a threesome.

Vee talks about waiting out in the lounge while the couples create their own real-time porn. Later, some of the contestants suggest Vee is a virgin and laugh about it. This makes her embarrassed and angry. One of the lesbians attacks Vee and whispers she bets someone like her would enjoy doggy-style sex. Tommy accuses Ian of being an actor on porn sites. Ian tells Vee that Tommy had obviously done some sick video editing while he “jacked off,” but it was all faked.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Vee learns that one of the cast members is planning to spike the punch at the cast party. She urges Sydney not to get hungover or her eyes may get so baggy that Vee can’t fix them even with make-up. At the contest finals, kids are paid for each beer they drink.

Lying: When Vee is late and lies to her mom about her whereabouts, she feels like she will throw up. Vee’s dares often involve lying to others.

Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review for Nerve.

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 to 18


Jeanne Ryan






Record Label



Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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