I decided to write a review about Mark Goldblatt’s Twerp not only because it’s our summer 2013 rep pick or because it’s getting great advanced buzz. I’m writing about it because it’s genuinely and whole-heartedly one of my favorite middle grade novels that I’ve read in a long time.
Sixth-grader Julian Twerski, “Twerp” has just returned to school after a weeklong suspension due to his involvement bullying another student, and his English teacher offers him a deal: if he writes a journal about the incident that got him suspended, he can get out of writing a report on Shakespeare. Julian uses the journal to recount events that make up his day to day life in 1960s Queens, New York and end ups finding strength in his own voice by writing. Trouble-making with his buddies, awkward interactions with girls, fights with his sister, and his preoccupation with being the fastest runner in school vividly combine to make up his journal entries and lead us to a confessional account of the event that got him and his friends suspended in the first place.
I’ll come right out and say it—I’m an absolute sucker for any story about a gang of friends getting into mischief. Movies like The Sandlot and The Goonies and books like Stephen King’s The Body entranced me when I was younger, probably because I was so not the kid that ran off and did something that was likely to get me into trouble. It’s not like I didn’t have any fun, but If I was a character from Twerp, I probably would have been Amelia, Julian’s older sister—the “wise one”, the artist—who sat by amused while her little brother got himself into a string of hijinks with his crew. I can recall a few stories right now to attest to that…my little brother got himself into a few pickles when we were growing up.
What these movies and books also offered me was a sense of insight and nostalgia that I appreciated even at twelve-years-old when I was experiencing them. And I felt the same thing when I read Twerp. You’ll notice a worldliness to Julian’s writing that could only come from a twelve-year-old—an understanding about life from someone at the time they’re beginning to understand it. Take note from one of my favorite passages in the book, when Julian’s best friend Lonnie is trying to convince Julian (the better writer) to write and hand-off a love-letter to Lonnie’s crush, Jillian:
“You’re a better writer that I am,” he answered. “I’m coming to you because I need to get a letter written. The same way you’d come to me to get a couch dragged down a street.”
“But I never asked you to drag a couch down the street,” I said. “Plus, why would anyone drag a couch down the street in the first place?…”
“That’s beside the point,” he said…you’re my best friend. ..The point is writing a letter or dragging a couch are the kinds of the things best friends do for each other.”
These revelations are so funny, so endearing, so in the moment—disguised by the devastation of homemade fireworks gone awry, the passing of love notes, the betrayal of a friend dating the person you like, that infamous “bullying incident”—I almost felt like I was getting a second chance to “do some damage” just by reading them.
But please don’t mistake this as a bullying book. Or any old book about coming-of-age. Twerp is written in a unique setting, during a time without the noise and distractions of electronics and hyper-media. It does address the issues of peer-pressure, making the right choices, and taking care of each other, but in an understated way that balances with the lighter parts of the story. In all Twerp is pure, old-fashioned fun…like playing tag outside.
Please tune into Random Acts of Reading again on May 24th for an exclusive Q&A with Twerp author, Mark Goldblatt!
What booksellers are saying about Twerp:
“Julian “Twerp” Twerski is one of the most likeable, realistically portrayed kid characters I’ve met in awhile…” – Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA
“ [Julian’s] stories are filled with humor and heart, and reminded me of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer… Based on the author’s own experiences growing up in 1960s Queens, Twerp sparkles with crisp true-to-life dialogue that perfectly captures the awkward antics of adolescent boys.” –Pam Stilp, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI
“The voice of the protagonist, Julian Twerski …is smart and sassy at the same time… Girls, friends, bullying, grades, the real issues of growing up are explored with care and humor.”—Liza Bernard, Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, VT
“Julian’s sixth-grade journal includes stories that will make you laugh, if you’re a kid—or cringe, if you’re an adult…All ages will empathize with Julian.”—Susan Kunhardt, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA
“… Twerp feels immediately accessible. It has such a strong writing style I think it will appeal to teachers & kids alike. —Michele Bellah, Copperfield’s Books, CA
“… The book’s greatest strength is that it calls attention to the important issues of friendship, peer pressure, and bullying, without preaching or talking down to the reader. I also love Julian’s voice, which reminded me a lot of Holden Caulfield. He’s a flawed character, but someone you can’t help but root for.” —Caitlin Ayer, Books Inc., CA
“… in the style of a modern day Tom Sawyer, Julian entertains his teacher with hijinks and humor while skirting around the story that ultimately must be told. Goldblatt has written a thought-provoking novel…”—Ellen Klein, Hooray For Books, Alexandria, VA
“If Jack Gantos had written the novelization of Tobias Wolfe’s This Boys Life for young readers, it would be Twerp! Mark Goldblatt has written a wonderful book about friendship and the hazards of childhood in the late 60′s. Wickedly funny and incredibly touching, this is a sensational book! Call your childhood friends together and read it with your kids!”—Holly Myers, Elliott Bay Book Co., Seattle, WA
“Twerp is a heartwarming story about finding your voice and way in life …Twerp is a story that both kids and parents will enjoy reading and discussing.”—Kiona Gross, Curious Cup, Carpinteria, CA
Thank you for joining us at RAoR today and many thanks to Bobbie for this great post!
Please share your thoughts in our comments section.
Today’s post came out of a conversation Deanna and I had recently about our kindergarten-aged children and how amazing it has been to see them learn to read this year. We were discussing their progress when we realized that her twins and my daughter all use early readers to practice reading independently. We thought it might be fun to share our experiences here, as early readers don’t always get the attention that picture books or middle readers do. Though they may not be as “glamorous,” they are a crucial part of learning to read.
I have two kids finishing kindergarten in June and it’s been an amazing year watching them grow and bloom both socially and academically. Ruby started memorizing books last year and “reading” them back to us, always a great first step to reading. At the beginning of the year she could read a few sight words, and just a few months ago it seemed like something just clicked. All of a sudden she was reading. It’s truly an amazing thing to see!
Ezra is still in the memorizing phase, and while he has a few site words, he doesn’t have the patience or confidence (yet) to sound out words he doesn’t recognize.
I remember this phase from when my oldest was going through it and it makes me so grateful to be in the kids book business! When I first took this job I had been a bookseller in a large independent known for literary fiction. While I read the occasional young adult novel and loved picture books that were pretty or clever, the beginning reading area is hard to appreciate unless you can see first hand how a good beginning reader makes a difference. Our Step into Reading line has pretty much filled all of our needs, both level- and license-wise. Our kids’ various obsessions have been gratified with books from Barbie, SpongeBob, Thomas the Tank Engine, and more. There have been a few gaps in their pop culture needs such as Star Wars, Lego and My Little Pony. I have picked up some of these books from my booksellers but have often been disappointed when a level 1 or 2 book has very little that can be digested by my kids.
Step into Reading will never be accused of being great literature. The earlier steps in particular are simple, repetitive and don’t use contractions. In other words, exactly what an early reader should be! Listening to a Barbie book for the umpteenth time may be one of my very least favorite parenting moments. But I am sure glad we make them!
My daughter will be finishing kindergarten in just a little over a month. I can hardly believe the strides she’s made in her reading and math skills this year. It’s amazing to watch everything start to click into place, and to see the confidence she derives from her new abilities. Every week, Norah’s teacher sends home a bag of early readers. They’re leveled, and she’s expected to read them independently each night, practicing and mastering the level, before returning them at the end of the week for the next level. While she diligently works with these readers, I can tell she finds them a little pedestrian, so I’ve been supplementing them with Step into Reading books from work. The bonus for me is that I have her review my advanced copies, so she serves as an early reviewer!
At this point, the Level 1 readers are a little too easy for Norah, but she still enjoys reading them since she rarely struggles with the words. I gave her samples of the upcoming Level 1 readers Robot, Go Bot! and Dig, Scoop, Ka-boom to read aloud to her little brother before bedtime, and while the words were very simple, both kids enjoyed the colorful art. Then we jumped to Level 3 readers, which are a challenge for Norah but not impossible for her to practice with. I like the Level 3’s because I can read them to the kids at bedtime and then she can go back and read them to herself later, asking for help with the words but already familiar with the storyline. Both of my kids loved Wedgieman to the Rescue, which was fun and silly with a secret adult-friendly pro-vegetable message. They also got a kick out of Twinky the Dinky Dog, prompting my son to beg me repeatedly for a pet Chihuahua of his own. And we can’t forget Norah’s true favorites, the Disney Princess and Barbie Step into Reading books. Every time her school hosts a bookfair, she comes home with long lists of pink, glittery early readers she is “dying” to read (the ones with stickers are the biggest hits).
Do you use early readers with your kids? Any backlist favorites you would recommend?
Today we welcome a special guest reviewer at RAoReading. Emma is currently working as an intern at Random House Children’s Books, and of course part of her internship is to read our books. She joins us with a review of a soon to be published book The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan. Read on and see what Emma has to say about Paris, star-crossed love and gargoyles!
Forget vampires and werewolves and enter a new paranormal romance paradigm governed by an angelic order, gargoyles personified and satanic demons that terrorize the Parisian streets. Page Morgan’s debut novel The Beautiful and the Cursed is a tantalizing new take on the genre that blends elements of historical fiction, paranormal romance, and a powerful bond between siblings.
Ingrid Waverly never imagined she would have to flee the comforts of London high society and begin life anew in Paris. Yet after a scandalous accident leaves Ingrid’s reputation, and with it her hopes of a suitable marriage, irrevocably tarnished, she and her family have no choice but to leave the country. Taking up residence in an ancient Parisian abbey, Ingrid, her younger sister and their mother are immediately confronted with the disappearance of Ingrid’s twin brother Grayson. Unable to believe her brother’s absence is merely a product of his “colorful lifestyle” Ingrid is determined to uncover the mystery of Grayson’s disappearance and bring him home. Yet Ingrid and Gabby’s mission to find their brother is hindered by a mysterious series of brutal nighttime assaults that have made traveling the Parisian streets a dangerous proposition.
Despite the risks, Ingrid and Gabby will stop at nothing to be reunited with Grayson. Their search soon takes an unexpected fantastical twist and the sisters are forced to redefine their definition of reality. Faced with gargoyles springing to life as handsome protectorates, a murderous pack of hellhounds risen from the underworld, an alliance between angels and humans, and an unexpected and unexplainable power that courses through her own veins, Ingrid’s desire to bring her brother home is revealed to be a matter of life and death.
The Beautiful and the Cursed is a welcome and creative deviation from the traditional paranormal romance script. The physical impossibility of romance between gargoyles and humans infuses the book with an irresistible supernatural star-crossed love, and nineteenth century Paris provides a perfect gothic setting. Headstrong Gabby and the more contemplative Ingrid are likeable and complementary protagonists. With interwoven themes of love, mystery, history and the supernatural both teen and adult readers will appreciate and enjoy the book’s complexity.
When the laws of the natural world are shattered, reuniting one family can only be achieved through an unlikely alliance between The Beautiful and the Cursed…
Many Thanks to Emma for this wonderful review! You can find The Beautiful and the Cursed in your favorite bookstore or library on May 14th.
Thanks for joining us today on RAoR, please share your thoughts in our comments section.
All kinds of books for every age are coming to your bookstore in paperback this month, a story about an adventurous flamingo, a new chapter in the Lunch Lady series, some great non-fiction, and more!
Sylvie by Jennifer Sattler
Sylvie the flamingo finds out that she is pink because of her diet of shrimp. This knowledge makes her curious, specifically she wants to know, if she eats other different colored things, will she change color? So she tries out some of those other things, and yes, she does indeed change color, but she also gets an upset stomach! In the end this charming story shows us and Sylvie that it’s ok to try new things in moderation, and it’s often best to just be yourself.
Three terrific new additions to the NG Readers line for curious beginning readers, filled with amazing pictures as only National Geographic can bring and interesting facts about each of the animals and their habitats. Saving Baby Animals is stories of animal babies, rescued and nursed back to health by humans, it will pull at the heart strings and make kids realize there’s a survivor inside all of us. In Polar Bears you’ll learn all you ever wanted to know about polar bears and so much more–these majestic giants swim from iceberg to iceberg in chilling waters, care for their adorable cubs, and are threatened by global warming. And in Monkeys you’ll see the comical, adorable, and fascinating lives of monkeys living in the wild, complete with details about their behavior, families, and environment.
Middle Grade and YA
Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain by Jarrett J. Krosocaka
Our favorite crime fighter The Lunch Lady is back in her 9th adventure, and there’s an important election for Student Council President about to take place. Especially important to The Breakfast Bunch since Hector is running! In the midst of all of this someone is stealing high-tech gadgets and jeopardizing school security. Can The Lunch Lady save the day?
Dognap by Patrick Jennings
Here’s what Deanna wrote about this title:
From the best-selling and well-reviewed author of Guinea Dog and Lucky Cap (coming in paperback April 24) comes this new tale of dognapping and aliens! When adults don’t believe what’s happening, it’s up to Logan and his friends to save the day. Another winner for the young/reluctant reader/middle grade boy.
Child of the Mountains by Marilyn Sue Shank
Here’s what our colleague Tim had to say about this title:
This is an affecting debut novel set in the Appalachian coal mining towns that dot West Virginia. Although not strictly autobiographical, the story is set in 1953, the same year the author was born and drawn from family lore and her own research.Young Lydia Hawkins has known nothing but loss in her young life. As she narrates her family’s story, we learn that (in short order), her father, baby brother and grandmother had died. Her mother was sent to prison accused of murdering her brother BJ who was crippled with cystic fibrosis and for whom her mother vainly sought out doctors who could treat him. With mother in prison, Lydia is sent off to her Uncle William and Aunt Mae who live in a coal mining camp. In her native dialect, she chronicles her daily life, her uneasy role in her new home and tough transition at her new school where she is teased and bullied for being the daughter of a “child killer”. Through it all, Lydia maintains a mature outlook well beyond her years and iron-willed determination to prove her mom’s innocence.This story really stuck with me and reminded me a bit of other powerful coming –of-age stories such as HEART OF A SHEPHERD and LOVE, AUBREY.
Zero by Tom Leveen
Amanda Walsh jokingly calls herself Zero. The plan for her last summer before college is for fun with friends, but that all goes sideways when her scholarship money doesn’t come through, her relationship with her BFF goes south and life at home is nothing but tense when her parents seem to be fighting all the time. Is her new relationship with the punk skater boy for real and will she find the support she needs, financially and emotionally to survive the summer? An exciting read for teens 14 and up.
BZRK by Michael Grant
Think “The Bourne Identity meets Hunger Games….with science”, and you’re off on a heart-pounding adventure that you’ll find hard to put down. BZRK will leave you saying “how long do I have to wait for book 2″? Michael Grant, well known for his GONE series gives us another thrill a minute read with enough twists to keep you reading late into the night. Keep an eye out for BZRK Reloaded on sale October 8, 2013.
Thanks for joining us at RAoR today, we hope your to be read list just got a little longer!
Please share your thoughts in our comments section.