This humorous book by Mark Goldblatt is published by Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House Inc., and is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
In the late 60s, Julian Twerski hangs out with five other boys in a Queens, N.Y., neighborhood. Lonnie is their unofficial leader, and he manipulates them into doing various kinds of mischief and sometimes even dangerous deeds. Julian hangs out with them behind an old apartment building in an abandoned lot they call Ponzini. It is out of sight of their parents and almost everyone else.
Julian Twerski, Twerp, gets suspended from sixth grade for being involved in a bullying incident over winter break. When he returns, his English teacher, Mr. Selkirk, gives him an assignment in which Julian writes about the bullying incident with the hope that he will reach a better understanding of his part in it.
He writes all about his life as a 12-year-old, but avoids telling what really happened in the bullying of Stanley Stimmel. The boys call Stanley "Danley Dimmel" because that's how it sounds when he himself pronounces his name, due to his hearing impairment. Danley is older, large and mentally challenged, but not stupid, as he is quick to point out.
Julian's classmates appreciate him for his superior intelligence and his speed. He is the fastest runner in school. Life gets complicated when a new girl, Jillian, enters their school, along with an older boy, Eduardo, who is from Guatemala. Julian fears Eduardo can and will outrun him on Track and Field Day.
Twerp concludes with Julian finally writing about the bullying incident. He realizes how wrong he was to participate in the egging of Danley Dimmel. In the end, he is instrumental in getting all six of the boys to apologize to Danley, even though it's seven months after the incident.
The Old Testament story of Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt is mentioned.
Other Belief Systems
Julian and some of his friends are Jewish and attend Hebrew school. Julian mentions his bar mitzvah the next year but makes it clear that it has little meaning for him. The rabbi mentions the Torah. Julian only goes to temple about once a month when the rabbi brings up his poor attendance. Julian and Lonnie were forced to go to temple until they were old enough to be left on their own. Then they stopped going.
There are numerous misuses of God's name and the term raised h---. Julian says Jillian's dad is a goofball. Lonnie's dad names their dog Lord. Other words include balls, p---ed my pants, screw up, screwy and wisea--.
Julian tells about a driver who has blood gushing from his forehead from a wound received in a car accident. The boys combine the powder from their firecrackers, M-80s and cherry bombs. The powder accidentally ignites and blows up in the face of one boy. Lonnie mentions that his mother had been in a concentration camp where her tongue was cut in half. One of the boys falls while walking a six-foot-high fence. He lands on his crotch, straddling the fence. He vomits, and his mouth fills with blood. While on a field trip to an art museum, Julian describes a painting that shows a beheading, including the gushing blood.
Julian lures Danley into Ponzini where the other boys lie in wait. Each boy has a dozen eggs, and they throw them hard and fast at Danley, who is less than 10 feet away. Danley tries to protect his hearing aid and his face, but after an egg hits him in the crotch, his face becomes fair game. Julian finishes off Danley with the last egg, hitting him in the mouth and knocking back his teeth. The boys run from the scene, leaving Danley bleeding and sobbing.
Emerging attractions develop between boys and girls. Lonnie has Julian write a love letter for him to Jillian. Jillian is drawn to Julian because she thinks the letter is really from him. Jillian invites Lonnie and Julian to her house for lunch. Eduardo, 14, who has been rescued from an orphanage in Guatemala, lives in her basement. Julian is uncomfortable with Jillian and Eduardo living in the same house because Julian has run into his older sister in her underwear simply because they live under the same roof.
When Julian and Lonnie arrive at Jillian's house, they see her mother sunbathing in a bikini with the top undone (she's lying face-down). Julian says it's the closest to naked he's ever seen in an adult. A conversation ensues among the four kids about what a great body Jillian's mother has.
In the school cafeteria, Jillian plants a kiss on Julian's cheek. Shlomo remarks that if Julian allows Jillian to sit so close to him again, it might give another boy, Eric, a boner. Julian and Jillian plan a movie date, but once at the theater, Jillian suggests they go to the amusement park instead. Jillian hugs Julian, and they hold hands while walking to the park. It is a mile away, and they travel through an unsafe neighborhood. It soon becomes plain to Julian that Jillian had planned to meet an eighth-grade boy on the first ride and that he had been used. The two of them go off together, arms around each other, leaving Julian feeling insignificant.
Julian tells about Beverly, who was rumored to have gone "behind the bushes" with one of his friends, though he is sure it is untrue. On a class outing, Julian and Beverly tour the art museum together and both feel awkward around the nude statues.
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Lying: Julian believes best friends should always tell the truth to each other, yet he has no problem lying to authority figures such as the police, teachers or his parents. Jillian has her dad drop her off at the movies to meet Julian, but then talks him into going to an amusement park instead. At the first ride, she meets an older teen boy, and it quickly becomes apparent to Julian that she had planned to meet the other boy.
Stealing: Lonnie thinks his story about the time they shoplifted and Julian got caught is hysterically funny.
Alcohol: Danley tells about a time when his dad let him drink half a can of beer.
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Readability Age Range
9 to 12
Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House Inc.