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