Flashback 1969(ish): Twerp by Mark Goldblatt and If I Ever Get Out of Here Alive by Eric L. Gansworth
I just happened to read 2 books that are set in the 1960s and 1970s for the MG set and they were both really good. Let me take a moment to tell you about them. By the way, even though these books were not on my list, this officially puts me past the read 5 Historical Fiction books this year personal challenge I set for myself, right? I’m going with yes.
Twerp by Mark Goldblatt
Technically, the tween and I listened to this book in the car as an audio book. Here’s what you need to know: we laughed out loud in several places, at another the Tween *literally* (real literally, not that new fangled figuratively crap they say it means now) was sitting on the edge of her seat, and in the end – we were both gut-wrenched and sobbing. Again, literally. That ending packs a seriously powerful wallop to the gut.
Twerp is the story of Julian, who is writing in his journal for his English class. He is supposed to be writing about that thing that happened with Danley (whose name is really Stanley). But he goes so far out of his way to avoid talking about what happened that he writes about everything but that – until the last moment. In it he tells the story of his 6th grade year . . . the triumphs (his first date), the tragedies (again, his first date), and everything in between.
This is such a super, amazing, really good book. It has that element of suspense, because you want to know what happened to Danley. But the stories building up to it are just your basic stories of childhood: funny, warm, touching, cringe inducing. If you are old enough to remember the show The Wonder Years, you have an idea of what this book is like. The tween’s favorite story is about the boy who was walking on the fence and fell off – straddling the fence. And yes, they say balls. (And although this is completely MG accessible, they also say boner. I only point that out because some people got really upset when The Higher Power of Lucky said scrotum. To me, it was not an issue because this is in fact how middle school and high school boys talk.)
In the end, Twerp is also a story about bullying. The thing is, Julian is not a bad kid. He just sometimes makes really bad decisions. Julian has a fantastic voice, a great supporting cast of characters (this is a great story of friendship), and this is just a charming story. I loved listening to it and highly recommend the audio book.
If I Ever Get Out of Here Alive by Eric Gansworth
Lewis “Shoe” Blake lives on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in the year 1975. He has few to no friends, until George shows up and he doesn’t know that he isn’t supposed to shun the reservation kids. The two become friends, but they each have their secrets. Lewis will go to great lengths to hide how poor his family is, but people like the bully Evan make it hard as he goes out of his way to target Lewis. And yes, this is also a book about bullying. But it is also a good one.
So, there are a few really great things about this book that I want to make sure you know about.
1) This is such a spot on depiction of tweens and teens living in poverty. The lengths that Lewis go through to hide this fact are just soul crushing. There is a scene where George’s dad is bringing Lewis home and his family sits inside with the lights off so that he can’t actually see what the house looks like. If this scene doesn’t make your heart grow 3 sizes for kids living in poverty then it is most likely true that you do not in fact have a heart.
2) This is also a spot on depiction of what it is like to be a military family. George’s family is a military family, as are a couple of other kids in the school. There is a lot of talk about not putting down roots and being ready to pack on a moments notice because you never know when you are going to get orders to move somewhere else. I was a military kid; we moved every 3 years. This part of the story was an authentic depiction and I thought it was a nice inclusion because I haven’t often seen it in a lot of our MG or YA lit.
3) Lewis is a huge Beatles, Paul McCartney, Wings fan and I loved the inclusion of the music throughout the book. The book title and each chapter title are somehow derived from McCartney songs. It is a powerful story about friendship and the power of music: to move you, to bond you, to inspire you.
Like Twerp, If I Ever Get Out of Here is a book about bullying. With Twerp, if you don’t know much about the story, you don’t realize it is about bullying until the very end. There are no questions about that in If I Ever Get Out of Here. But it is more than bullying, it is about discrimination and racism and the hatred that can live in our hearts for people that our different than us. Gansworth himself grew up on the Tuscarora reservation and Cynthia Leitich Smith endorses it (“A heart-healing, mocs-on-the-ground story of music, family and friendship.” — Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of TANTALIZE and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME), which carries a huge amount of weight in my eyes. This is an important and accessible look into Native American life for those who are not yet ready to read The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
I think that both of these titles are MUST READS for everyone. They are really good books, moving stories, and important reminders that we really should just be nicer to one another. These are sincere, heartfelt glimpses into our past, both the good and the bad; And in the case of If I Ever Get Out of Here, it is an important reminder of the racism and classicism that can divide us if we let it. They also both have really strong, well developed voices.
Twerp by Mark Goldbatt. Published in May 2013 by Random House. ISBN:
9780375971426. Also available on audio.
If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric L. Gansworth. Published in July 2013 by Arthur A. Levine Books. ISBN: 9780545417303
Also, check out this Random House feature on Kids and Bullying: Audiobooks for Conversation
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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