Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Review: TWERP

After returning from a weeklong suspension for a bullying incident, Julian Twerski is given the opportunity be exempt from writing a report on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by instead keeping a journal. His English teacher wants him to write about the event that led to his punishment. Julian has no problem writing about his daily struggles as a sixth grade boy, but he has no intention of writing about what he did to Stanley. Julian’s journal instead covers the exploits of his friend Lonnie, his first date, and his attempt to maintain his title of fast kid in school. He avoids the dreaded topic of bullying until the very last chapter where he finally describes participating in an act of cruelty on a mentally disabled boy.  

Twerp, is being marketed as an anti-bullying book, which is a topic much sought after by middle schools. Unfortunately, Twerp does very little to address that issue. Instead, the book is more of a coming-of-age story that reads like several episodes of the television show The Wonder Years mashed together until its dramatic climax at the end. Julian is ambivalent about his actions for months after the event until he is forced to write them. Only after he describes his attack on Stanley does he experience any remorse. For much of the novel, his bullying incident is barely mentioned.

As a coming-of-age story, Twerp is humorous; though, Julian’s narration is too mature for a sixth grade, even if he is gifted. His stories are charming, but I’m not sure they would appeal to sixth grade boys. Julian’s relationship with his friends, particularly Lonnie, is well developed and realistic. It is easy to see how Julian is lured into behavior he would not normally consider by charismatic Lonnie. The character of Eduardo is not realistic at all; his lines read like Javier Bardem trapped in a 13 year-old’s body. 

While I think Mark Goldblatt has a talent for writing humorous dialog, Twerp is another book that will interest adults more than children. I would recommend giving this book to readers who enjoy Gary D. Schmidt’s works.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 22, 2013


In 1950s New Orleans, smart and resourceful Josie is the daughter of an uncaring prostitute. Her mother Louise works in a high-end brothel run by Willie, a shrewd yet surprising thoughtful madam. Though Josie has been living on her own since she was twelve, Willie has always been looking out for her. Now that Josie is seventeen, she wants to leave the craziness of the Big Easy. She has her sights on enrolling at Smith College; however, the murder of a wealthy businessman in the Quarter threatens to destroy her plans. 

Out of the Easy takes a rich setting adds fascinating characters and drops in a little mystery to create a wonderful novel. It is very hard to put this book down. Josie’s almost Cinderella story will entice teen readers. The book suffers a bit through an unnecessary love-triangle, but thankfully romance plays only a small part in the story. Where the book really shines is in the relationship between Willie and Josie. Willie is based real-life New Orleans madam Norma Wallace, and she is hilarious. Though Out of the Easy contains mature themes, Septeys plays it safe with the descriptions and dialogue. This novel is appropriate for grades 8 and up.

4 out of 5 stars


Six hurricanes post Katrina have devastated the Gulf Coast.  Those who survived and remained in New Orleans were hit with a deadly blood disease.  Unable to find a cure and fearful that the disease would spread throughout the country, the United States government built a militarized wall around the city.  Residents behind the wall were left to die, but that’s not what happened.  New Orleans may have perished but Orleans is still fighting. 

In the years following the construction of the wall, those left behind discovered that the disease affects the various blood types differently.  O Positive and Negative types are carriers of Delta Fever but do not suffer the symptoms.  All other blood types suffer a slow, painful death unless they can receive constant blood transfusions.  This creates a dangerous situation for the O-Positives and O-Negs who must stick together to avoid being kidnapped and forced into being a blood slave.

Fen de la Guerre is the fifteen year old heroine of Orleans.  Her parents were killed and after a few horrific years of being on her own, she is taken in by an O-Positive tribe.  When her tribe's chieftain dies in childbirth, Fen saves her baby and promises to give the child a better life.  She has five days to find a way to get the newborn over the wall and out of Orleans before the child contracts the virus.

Daniel is a promising epidemiologist who lost his beloved little brother to Delta Fever.  Living in the Outer States, he has spent years looking for a cure and has come very close.  Unfortunately, his new miracle drug not only kills the virus, it also kills the host.  He does not have access to good specimens for testing and development on his side of the wall; therefore, he decides to undertake a risky, secretive mission to illegally enter Orleans to gather the necessary data to fix his cure.  He expects to find an uninhabited wasteland, but what he discovers is a very dangerous city with plenty of survivors.  If he hopes to get out of Orleans, Daniel is going to have to partner with Fen and help her save the newborn baby.

Sherri L. Smith’s new dystopian novel is a wildly imaginative adventure that would pair well with the film Beasts of the Southern Wild or the novel Shipbreaker.  The setting is both haunting and intriguing.  The pacing of the novel moves very quickly, and the intense scenes will appeal to horror fans.  There is quite a bit of violence, including a rape, which renders the book more appropriate for older teens.  In a nice change from the abundance of young adult dystopian novels published these days, Orleans does not bother with a romance storyline.   Fen is a strong main character who never veers from her mission of protecting the newborn.  Daniel is less well developed but still very interesting.  Their story will stick with readers long after the novel is over.

4.5 of out 5 stars
Recommended for grades 9 and up