Twerp

 
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Twerp

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
right there.
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

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA
Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ (http://richiespicks.com/)

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