Rooting for TWERP: Bobbie’s Review of Our Summer Rep Pick!
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!
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