Friday, June 28, 2013
Twerp by Mark Goldblatt
After being suspended from school for a week, sixth grader Julian Twerski returns to school in January 1969. His English teacher, Mr. Selkirk, has assigned the class a term paper on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, not something Julian wants to do. So Mr. Selkirk strikes a deal with him - instead of doing the Julius Caesar paper, Julian is to write about the incident that he and his friends were involved in against a handicapped boy nicknamed Danley Dimmel and that caused his suspension.
Thus begins a six months period of recounting his day to day life. Julian writes about the five friends he hangs out with him in an empty lot the call Ponzini, after a boy who lives there and a different incident that involved them all. And he writes about his best friend Lonnie, who seems to have so much influence over Julian that he can get him to do anything he wants him to do, from throwing a rock at a pigeon to writing a love letter to a girl he has a crush on - a letter that backfires for both Lonnie and Julian and, of course, the most serious incident that Julian continues to put off writing about.
Twerp is a compelling coming of age story set in Queens, New York in 1969 and Goldblatt has really captured the essence of what it was like in NYC and in 6th grade at that time. Julian is an engaging narrator, thoughtful, sensitive, but a follower. And unfortunately, the person he follows, Lonnie, is a rather mean-spirited kid - remember the pigeon. Lonnie even makes fun of the way his own mother speaks. She is a concentration camp survivor whose tongue what cut by the Nazis and who endured many surgeries to have it somewhat repaired. But his charisma blinds Julian until..
As he writes his journal entries (9 composition books by the end of the year), the reader can clearly see how things between Lonnie and Julian can go from peer pressure (the pigeon entry is one example) to full scale bullying - the incident with Danley Dimmel.
I particularly liked the novel because of its setting - 6th grade in 1969 Queens wasn't so different than 6th grade in 1969 Brooklyn. And though the use of journal entries may be seen as formulaic to some, I felt it was an excellent method for the kind of soul-searching Julian needed to do.
I also like the positive image of the teacher in Twerp even though we never meet him directly, only when Julian addresses him in his journal, which he does often. Recognizing that there was something about Julian that made him think he would benefit more from his journal assignment than doing the Julius Caesar paper (guilt? knowing right from wrong? a need to confess?), Mr. Selkirk did the right thing.
All in all, Twerp is an excellent novel and one that addresses the always important issue of bullying.
This novel is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was received as an E-ARC from Netgalley.com