Random House Books for Young Readers
[New release: May 28th, 2013]
Twerp is Mark Goldblatt's first book for younger readers, and is written as the journal of Julian Twerski - a journal he is forced to write by his English teacher after he is accused of bullying another boy (Danley Dimmel) and is suspended from school. The only good thing about writing the journal, it seems, is getting out of a project on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.
If Holden Caulfield wasn't a disaffected adolescent, and was instead a sixth grader in New York at the end of the 1960s, he might sound a little bit like this. Julian's narrative voice recalls that same desire to explain himself and to try and unravel a world that doesn't always make sense to him. He lives with his parents and his sister, but spends most of his time with his group of friends, including his rather overbearing best friend Lonnie. Julian is known for being the fastest runner in his school - something he takes great pride in - and when his title is threatened by new kid Eduardo, Julian is worried about what this means for him. The possibility of being the second fastest runner at school opens Julian's mind to the fact that his significance as a human is limited.
His philosophical ponderings aside, most of Julian's journal concerns the bigger events of his sixth grade life. The one event his English teacher wants him to talk about - what happened to Danley Dimmel, and what did Julian have to do with it - is avoided, as Julian talks instead about meeting Eduardo, accidentally killing a pigeon, writing a love letter to a girl, and running an important race at school. Only after he's written about all these other things, in which he realises how naive he can be, and how unfair life can be, does he get round to talking about the bullying incident.
Goldblatt really captures the voice of a young boy, and the frustrations, disappointments and triumphs that Julian goes through felt very genuine and authentic. Julian isn't a bad kid, but enough people have thought of him badly, or accused him of things he didn't do (although maybe he kind of did) to make him realise that wanting to do the right thing, and doing the right thing, aren't always the same thing. There are lots of comic (or comi-tragic) moments, and the journal format worked really well. Twerp is most suited to pre-teen readers, but it's smart and touching and wouldn't be out of place in young adult, either.
Overall rating: 7/10
Book source: Received an ebook ARC from publisher.