In a society in which shock sells both books and movies, Mark Goldblatt relies on simplicity and innocence to grab the reader's attention. Even though the target audience for his newest book, "Twerp," seems to be preteen boys who are accustomed to violence, adventure and extreme fantasy, the book focuses completely on childish pranks and uncomplicated conflicts.
In "Twerp," which is set in 1969, Julian Twerski is required to write an essay for his English teacher regarding the events that led up to his suspension from school. Julian proceeds to write a rather lengthy story about throwing rocks at pigeons, playing tag at the playground, daring feats with fireworks and even a date with a girl from school.
Overall, "Twerp" is fun and light-hearted. Julian gets into good old-fashioned sixth grade trouble with his group of silly-nicknamed friends. He has an innocent crush on a girl at school, and a semi-rivalry with an overgrown fifth grader.
Unfortunately, the innocence may be the downfall of the book. Because it is set in 1969, many of the problems that Julian faces are not the same as kids in 2013. It seems as though Julian's innocent girl issues and silly accidents would transcend the decades, but this is not the case. Middle schoolers in the 21st century face anonymous social media bullies, online predators, drugs, sex, violence and often absent parents. The stresses that most 11 and 12-year-olds can relate to are not really touched on in "Twerp." This really does cause the book to seem dated, especially with the pop culture references that are limited to people who are familiar with the '60s. In fact, many kids may see the problems Julian faces as simple or just silly.
On the other hand, this type of book may be exactly what some kids need to read. An escape from modern life into a more innocent time when kids could play outside all day without worrying about video games, texting friends or checking whatever social media website is the current rage. It is truly reminiscent of movies like "The Sandlot" and "Rookie of the Year."
"Twerp" is well-written and funny, and though many sixth grade boys will find it completely unrelatable, it does offer a glimpse into a time when-though the world in general was in upheaval-kids were just kids, with kid worries, rather than short adults who grow up way too quickly.