Mark Goldblatt, two years my junior, grew up a few dozen miles west
of me in Queens, NY. He dedicates this standout coming of age tale and
absolutely killer guy read to the "Thirty-Fourth Avenue Boys" and, in
answer to an interview question about his inspiration for TWERP, Mark responded:
"I think the seed was planted in the early 1970s, back when I was in high
school. I'd started writing for the school newspaper, and a friend of mine
named Ricky was razzing me about it -- it wasn't the kind of thing kids
from our block did. But then, after a couple of minutes, his voice lowered,
and he said something that caught me off guard: 'If you ever become a
famous writer, you better write a book about us.' That stuck with me, the tone
as much as the content. There's a sadness about it, an inkling of
mortality, or at least a recognition that our lives were about to go in different
directions. That's what happened, of course. I've lost touch with most of
the guys from the block. But not a day goes by when I don't think about
them, where their faces aren't right in front of me, where their voices
don't come rushing back."
I share this with you because, in Goldblatt's telling, the voices of
these young guy characters in TWERP ring so stunningly true and the setting is
so utterly vivid. Particularly, having grown up nearby and having lived
those days of '69, I find this to be such a well-told story that hits me
TWERP is a powerful read. At times, it literally had me rolling on the
floor and, at others, it had me sobbing. (I'll never think of Mo Willem's
pigeon the same way again.) Sometimes (as with the painful fence incident
involving Eric the Red), there is a lot of rolling on the floor and moaning.
TWERP is written in the first person and it is episodic, reminiscent of
some of my favorite Paulsen and Peck in that regard, but is also very
different being that the voice here is so authentically Queens Jewish kid. This
is a tale that makes me badly want to get to know this author.
TWERP is the nickname that has been given to sixth-grader honor student
and speedster Julian Twerski. Julian finds himself writing the dated entries
that form the chapters of this book -- about himself and the guys on his
block -- both as penance for an incident that he was part of, and as a way
to avoid having to write a final paper on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.
We hear all about Julian's aversion to the Bard: "I hate the guy, William
Shakespeare. If I met him on the street, I'd just keep walking. Because
you know, you just know, while he was writing the stuff he was writing, he
was thinking how clever he was. He was sitting at his desk, writing the
words, and he could've just said what he meant, but instead he prettied it up
until it could mean everything or it could mean nothing or it could mean
whatever the teacher says it means. That just drives me bananas. So if
keeping this thing going get me out of Julius Caesar, then count me in."
While there is a significant bullying issue underlying Julian's story,
that issue is really secondary in the reading to these episodic tales he
shares about the exploits of himself and the boys from the block. Above all,
they involve Julian's friendship with Lonnie who is the ringleader of the
boys, the son of a Holocaust survivor, and is a kid who is currently making
his way through sixth grade for the second time. This is also a book with
a real physical side to it, this being about healthy sixth grade boys who
are prone to daring exploits.
While there are plenty of words that can be employed in characterizing
and categorizing TWERP, I'd say that, above all, this is a tween book with a
great measure of real heart.
Ages 9-13 286 pages -13:978-0375971426