CYBILS REVIEW: Twerp by Mark Goldblatt
ABOUT THE BOOK
It's not like I meant for him to get hurt. . . .
Julian Twerski isn't a bully. He's just made a big mistake. So when he returns to school after a weeklong suspension, his English teacher offers him a deal: if he keeps a journal and writes about the terrible incident that got him and his friends suspended, he can get out of writing a report on Shakespeare. Julian jumps at the chance. And so begins his account of life in sixth grade--blowing up homemade fireworks, writing a love letter for his best friend (with disastrous results), and worrying whether he's still the fastest kid in school. Lurking in the background, though, is the one story he can't bring himself to tell, the one story his teacher most wants to hear.
Inspired by Mark Goldblatt's own childhood growing up in 1960s Queens, Twerp shines with humor and heart. This remarkably powerful story will have readers laughing and crying right along with these flawed but unforgettable characters.
Julian, an athletic sixth grader, has been given an assignment by his English teacher. If he keeps a journal for a while he can avoid doing some of his classwork, something he is happy to do. But he avoids writing about the incident that got him suspended for a week, although he refers to it now and then. It's clear from early on that he doesn't want to take about it. Much of the book focuses on Julian's trials and tribulations relating to friendship, girls, and learning that he may no longer be the fastest kid at his school any more. But eventually, Julian must come face to face with what he has done, both the good and bad and decide whether to let life dictate to him or whether he will take charge of it.
Strengths: The strongest part of this book is the relationships especially between the kids. Julian and his best friend Lonnie provide an interesting look at peer pressure and what can happen when we let others force us into things we know aren't right. I appreciated that both Julian and Lonnie are three-dimensional, neither all good nor all bad. The girl issues that Julian and his friends deal with felt so much like middle school and fickleness of puppy love. I especially enjoyed watching the relationship grow between Eduardo, an immigrant from Guatemala who lost his parents there, and Julian. Eduardo seems to be faster than Eduardo, and Julian struggles with that, especially since he likes the guy. I think the strongest part of the novel was the thoughtful way it explored doing the right thing and how our relationships effect our choices.
Weaknesses: The historical aspects could have been stronger. The only hints that this takes place in the past is the lack of modern accessories (no cell phones) and brief references to the pop culture of the day. Also, Lonnie's mother suffered at the hands of the Nazis. On one hand this makes the story more timeless, on the other, it makes the setting a bit harder to picture.