Middle Grade Monday: Twerp (audio book)
Author: Mark Goldblatt, read by Everette Plen
Publication Info: 2013, Listening Library. Hardcover 2013, Random House
Source: Library digital resources
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.
This book was on the short list for the BOTM read for my Goodreads middle-grade books group, and since I needed something to read, I nabbed a copy. The theme for the month was bullying, and this one looked interesting (okay, half the books on the list ended up on my TBR list).
The book is more than interesting. Much of the story reads like a typical middle-school kind of story. Sixth-graders doing 12-year-old things, sometimes stupid, sometimes a little more self-centered than nice. But behind it all, as Julian writes his journal-like story, lurks the thing that he doesn't want to admit. Doesn't even want to think about.
Most of the time the reader can forget that there's something not yet revealed. The traumas of 6th grade--especially the whole things with girls--seem enough to make an engaging and mostly kind of fun story. In retrospect, when the author is done with the gut-punch of the thing Julian and his friends did, some of those incidents were steps on Julian's way to understanding difference. In that sense, the story feels maybe a bit more modern than its 1960s setting--it felt a bit like Restorative Justice. And maybe that concept isn't as new as we like to think it is.
I think this story works especially well as an instructive tale about bullying precisely because Julian isn't a bully. But then he does something--and he is. He is also a kid who is too willing to follow others, and there is just enough hint that he gets that, and in the end manages to move beyond it.
The audio is well done, the narrator's style felt a little too "6th grade" to me--a little too slow and a trifle stilted, kind of the way Julian himself might read it. Which is fine in some ways, but I'd have preferred a smoother read in some places. Not a turn-off, just not how I'd have read it.
This would make an excellent book for a class read, especially in a class (I'm thinking of Eldest Son's 6th grade class) where there's a bit of a bullying problem. If it doesn't get kids to think about their own behavior, they may beyond thinking.
FTC Disclosure: I checked Twerp out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."