Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review: Twerp, by Mark Goldblatt (Random House, 2013)

Recommended for ages 10-14.

Release date:  May 28, 2013

In recent years, with the great attention paid to the problem of bullying both in schools and on-line, many new children's novels have come out dealing with this topic.  Mark Goldblatt's Twerp is a worthy addition to any library looking for books addressing this subject. 

Julian Twerski (aka Twerp) doesn't think of himself as a bully. But after he's suspended for his involvement in a bullying incident, his English teacher asks him to keep a journal, hoping he'll open up on paper about what really happened (and also giving a framework for this book). Julian sees the journal as a great way to get out of writing a paper on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, since he HATES Shakespeare with a passion. The journal turns into a diary of Julian's sixth grade life in 1969 Queens, in which he examines his friendships with neighborhood boys, has crushes on girls, worries about whether he's still the fastest kid in the 6th grade, and muses on all the terrible things he's ever done--all except what happened to Danley Dimmel, the victim of his bullying that's at the root of the journal--and the novel. There's plenty of comedy in this story, including a subplot where Julian writes a love letter for his tongue-tied best friend (shades of Cyrano de Bergerac) with predictably disastrous and hilarious results.  But there's also a serious thread, with the book's examination of bullying, why it happens and what Julian does to try to deal with his guilt over the situation. 

Author Goldblatt describes himself on his website as a "theologian, novelist, columnist and book reviewer as well as a professor at Fashion Institute of Technology of the State University of New York."  This is his first novel for young people, and was inspired by his own childhood growing up in Queens.  The author's authentic middle-school voice reminded me of Gary Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars novel, which takes place around the same time. 

Twerp is well worth reading, particularly for middle school aged kids. Although the novel is set in 1969, Julian and his friends are definitely characters that young readers will identify with, and the story could just as easily take place now (except there's an absence of cell phones, texting, computers, and other high-tech facets of modern life). 

1 comment:

PragmaticMom said...

I like bullying novels from the perspective of the bully and there aren't many. Looks like a good book for middle school kids!