Review: Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt It’s not like I meant for Danley 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 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 powerful writing that will have readers laughing and crying right along with these flawed but unforgettable characters.

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Review

Reading Twerp made me realise how old I am. Not necessarily in a bad way, just that I’ve mostly forgotten what it’s like to be twelve years old. I’ve started to forget how twelve year olds relate to their friends, to adults, and to the world around them in general. This led me to question several times whether Julian was narrating beyond his years and of course this led to wondering how much of an influence the author, Mark Goldblatt, and his age had on Julian’s perspective.

I face this question each time I read something for a certain demographic. It has happened plenty of times before and it will happen again because you can’t avoid middle grade and young adult stories being written by adults. The only way to know if it connects with someone of that age group is to speak to someone in that age group who has read it.

So without finding a twelve year old to read Twerp, or being twelve again myself, I can’t quite decide if Goldblatt hit the mark when it came to telling a story such as this with a twelve year old character. Personally, I found Julian’s words and perspectives older than what I was expecting, but then you find out he is in the gifted class so I let it go and adjusted my views.

It’s not that I couldn’t see beyond any of this question, but I bring it up because I think Twerp could be a step forward for certain young inquisitive minds and a positive way of getting children to think. While the incident to prompt the writing assignment from his teacher being dangled didn’t spur me on to read the story, I loved the gradual progression of Julian’s growth. There was nothing abrupt or unrealistic about it. He struggled, he tried denying what had happened, tried downplaying it, and focused on other areas of his life, just like I would expect anyone to do really. It’s a journey any one of any age can take regardless of what horrid thing they do.

The progress of Julian coming to terms with what happened is what got me to continue reading. I think if it weren’t for that I would have been more inclined to not finish. Twerp isn’t a dull story by any means, but I didn’t find it to be exactly engrossing. I did love the characters however; especially Eduardo, and the setting coupled with the group of friends for some reason reminded me of The Body by Stephen King (a short story than adapted to film and titled Stand by Me) and the younger years in Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra. The story had that youthful, close-bond, hooligan-with-a-heart, kind of feel to it, except of course Twerp wasn’t as dark as The Body and Sleepers.

As for the incident? I’m not going to spoil it for you. For something I wasn’t too interested in during the story; when the incident was revealed I was simultaneously appalled and riveted by what was going on. I loved how Julian handled it after finally coming to terms with it and it was the perfect ending to a subtle build-up of realisations. If I had a twelve-year-old nephew I would follow him around with a copy of Twerp until he agreed to read it.

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One thought on “Review: Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

  1. Who’s teaching Shakespeare to 12 year olds? That seems a bit too grown up for that age group….but I’ve seen some other favourable reviews for this one so I’ll add it to my list. Thanks for recommending!

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