Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

The plot is a familiar one. A boy gets in trouble at school and has to journal about it. He muses about girls and his shenanigans with friends all the while learning and growing up into a better person in a middle school setting. What makes this story stand out is how the character humorously reflects on what is happening in his life to the classic stories assigned for English class describing his good and bad actions with a raw honesty that makes him believable and likable. He is supposed to be reflecting on a bullying incident he was suspended from school for but this specific event is not revealed until the end. The beginning shows that the character really is thinking about the incident but the reader has to connect the dots on his or her own. While there are some minor flaws in a weak historical setting and forced portrayal of a Spanish boy, the author nails the main and minor character voices in a terrific story that has some heavy themes balanced with plenty of laughs.

The story begins with Julian explaining how he will do anything for his friend and vice versa. This is a problem. Except Julian doesn't know it at this point. He doesn't think for himself and is more concerned with belonging to a group of friends. Throughout the course of the novel the friends fight over a girl and it leads to Julian thinking about what it means to not be associated with a friend. To be on ones own. To think for oneself. This is critical to him growing up and finding his own self-identity. When he is with his friends he does something really stupid and painful to another person who has a disability. The buildup throughout the novel shows that he is a nice kid. a likable kid. A kid who cries when he accidentally kills a bird with a stone. A kid who wants a "do-over" but knows he can't get it. In the end he seeks redemption and forgiveness from the person he hurt which is about all he can do after the fact.

People make mistakes. Adults, adolescents, and children. It is a part of life and learning to deal with them is difficult. One of the messages is how to live with the consequences of hurting someone else or making a bad decision. Julian is also getting out of writing a paper on Julius Caesar, which he ironically realizes reflects his life and how he and his friends betray each other by fighting over girls. No one gets stabbed but they do have a physical fight. Julian jokes about how ditzy his friends become once they fall for a girl, "One second he's good old Howie, yakking it up, and then the next second, he notices Beverly Segal walking up the block, and he's like a zombie, shuffling his feet back and forth..." and while their actions are hysterical it also shows them learning to deal with crushes on girls. Howie learns that his crush is a dream and his friends weren't honest with him. Lonnie learns the girl he has a crush on likes his best friend. Julian learns the girl he's sort of interested in has just manipulated him.

The last third of the novel has Julian realizing that he is just one of many people on earth. He repeatedly quotes Hamlet's comment on humans being the "quintessence of dust." Julian in many ways is a modern day Hamlet or at least a young adult from the 1960's. Like Hamlet, Julian doesn't know how to take effective action because he has a need for certainty which isn't going to happen in adolescence. When Julian starts talking about the "quintessence of dust" it is in situations where he doesn't believe he can act in a controlled and purposeful way. Like Hamlet, Julian thinks about actions in the abstract and oftentimes when he does act it is blind and emotional. In the end, he does learn to take reasonable action as shown in his gathering of friends to apologize to the person they were cruel to. In that regard he pulls away from Hamlet's obsession with death and chooses life. He is not a tragic figure. 

The beginning of the book shows how Julian will mindlessly do what his best friend asks him to do. Even though Julian is smarter than his friend, he is loyal and insists to everyone that begs to differ that Lonnie is a bright guy. Lonnie shows that he isn't bright and lacks the introspective quality that Julian has regarding his actions. Lonnie is insensitive about his mom's past, looks down on a kid with a disability, and usually comes up with the ideas that get Julian and his friends in trouble. It's hard because Lonnie isn't as sensitive as Julian nor does he appear to struggle with right and wrong like the Hamlet-like Julian. The girlfriend incident makes Julian realize that perhaps he needs to strike out a bit on his own and not "jump" at every suggestion Lonnie makes to the group. Lonnie leads the boys but they need to know when to stand up to him and when to follow. Eduardo is the foil that helps Julian realize this and was the only character that needed more fleshing out. Sometimes he sounded too old. Sometimes his English was too good. Other times he was funny. He's needed to show the character development and succeeds in doing just that. By the end, they all stand up to Lonnie in a funny and satisfying way. This well-written story would make a great discussion for any book club or classroom.

4 Smileys

No comments:

Post a Comment