Twerp by Mark Goldblatt
Another young adult novel! I’m on a roll over the long, rainy Labor Day weekend here in Chengdu.
Twerp by Mark Goldblatt is the perfect companion novel to yesterday’s Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington. Although they are not the same story, there are some great comparison points, and each reach towards a different middle school audience, while not being exclusive in their readability.
Goldblatt’s book focuses on Julian, a sixth grade boy who is writing as a requirement for his English teacher after being suspended from school for a week because of his involvement in a bullying incident. The book starts in a rather rambling sense, as Julian is just doing the assignment because he feels forced to do it, but as the novel progresses, Julian comes into his own as a writer, seeing it as a way to explore ideas and feelings that he’s not ready to share with the world.
One reason that Julian begins to love the assigned writing project is that his teachers lets him off the hook for a report on Julius Caesar and since Julian hates Shakespeare, he is happy to continue to write his own narrative. But, as literary tradition would have it, he soon discovers parallels between his life and that of Caesar, which draws him back into the very assignment he hoped to escape.
There were a couple of interesting plot points that stood out to me as I read Twerp. First of all, I found the whole thing reminiscent of The Outsiders. The story takes place in the 60s, is a writing assignment for a young man who has been in trouble and draws on literary references in a way that makes them accessible to middle school readers. Also, I liked that the protagonist was just a regular kid from a “regular” family. There were no horrible, dark secrets in his past that made him make the bad decision that lead to the writing of his story, but rather just a poor choice made on the spur of the moment with friends. I like the conversations that this could lead to in a classroom- about how each choice we make has consequences, even if we don’t intend them to. And, of course, the English teacher in me isn’t going to complain about the Shakespeare quotes and references sprinkled throughout the novel.
Mark Goldblatt’s Twerp is a great read for middle school boys. (Not that girls wouldn’t also enjoy it, but the protagonist deals with some very middle school-boy issues that are probably more relatable by the male population than the female.) It has action, it has friendship, it has competition and even a bit of love thrown in, making it a well-rounded, great read for the start of a new school year, earning it: