Julian Twerski, nicknamed Twerp, is at that awkward age where he doesn’t quite fit in and finds sixth grade very challenging as he tries to balance school, sports, and family. Growing up in 1969 Queens, New York, Julian does not have much parental supervision and is free to roam the neighborhood streets after school with his friend, Lonnie, who often provokes his peers to follow him in adventurous escapades that lead to disastrous results. When the boys push a special needs boy, Danley Dimmel, to the edge by pretending to be his friend and then bombarding him with eggs, Julian is found guilty and suspended for his involvement in the bullying incident. Nobody wants to talk about the details of the event, so Mr. Selkirk, his English teacher, presents Julian with an interesting ultimatum —keep a journal instead of doing the class assignment of writing a report on Julius Caesar, hoping that he will be compelled to write the truth of the “bad deed.” Julian is a witty and talented writer and uses the assignment as catharsis and he spills his emotions on everything — being the fastest runner at school, having a crush on a girl, and being embarrassed by his parents — except the incident at hand. Although Julian is not overly religious, his bar mitzvah is on the horizon, he seems to take Rabbi Salzberg’s words of wisdom quite seriously, often commenting on some of the key points in his journal. At one point, Julian cannot seem to make amends with his best friend and turns to the Rabbi for help, who explains that he’s just going through a schlimazel (bad luck) phase and he’s sure it will pass as it always does. Julian is fortunate to have some positive adult mentors as well as the support of his sister, and although it takes him a full school year, he seems to find his footing and takes responsibility for his actions. Readers who have enjoyed Wednesday Wars by Schmidt (HMH Books, 2007) will savor this delightful coming of age story.
Recommended for ages 10 – 13.