Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Twerp Book Poster Image
Poignant middle school novel has great humor and depth.

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age 11+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Twerp takes place during the 1968-69 school year; readers will learn about urban life and middle school life at that time. Details such as the way Julian Twerski and his friends call adults "Mr." and "Mrs.," mentions of the Vietnam War, and the fact that the mom of one of Julian's friends is a holocaust survivor put the kids' lives in context. Through Julian's writings, readers also learn some Spanish and take in some age-appropriate analysis of Renaissance poetry and Shakespeare.

Positive Messages

Julian learns, the only way to feel OK about yourself is to do what you know is right. Also, his reading of a quotation from Shakespeare's Hamlet gives him an expanded world view; it helps him to see that problems that seem huge when he's 12 are really the "quintessence of dust" and won't matter in the greater scheme of things. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The fictional Julian Twerski lived 40-plus years ago, but he's a great role model for tween and teen boys trying to navigate friendships and morality in any time. Julian is a normal kid who makes some big mistakes, but he looks inward and learns to do the right thing by others while preserving his dignity.


Julian describes the way he feels after he's goaded into throwing a rock at some pigeons and one of the birds is injured. His best friend's mom is a Holocaust survivor who speaks strangely because she had part of her tongue cut out by the Nazis. A couple of young boys are restrained by bullies in a park. A boy falls and injures himself on a metal fence -- one of two incidents in the book that leave kids hurt and bleeding. Ultimately, there's a description of the hurtful incident that got Julien suspended from school.


Boys and girls have crushes on each other, and Julian is persuaded to write a love letter from one friend to another. A girl kisses Julian on the cheek. Kids spread false rumors about other boys and girls making out. Some friends joke about one boy getting a "boner."


No curse words are used, but a mentally disabled boy says that people think he's a "retard." The boys have nicknames, some of which are unkind ("Howie Wartnose," "Twerp") or sarcastic ("Quick Quentin").


Bic pen.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mark Goldblatt's coming-of-age novel, Twerp, offers a kid's-eye view of the middle school years in a Jewish New York City neighborhood during the late 1960s. The friend issues that sixth-grader Julian Twerski deals with are universal, but his ability to analyze his own behavior and to find inspiration and understanding from great literature are exceptional. There's a lot of humor, but also kid-on-kid violence, including bullying of a mentally disabled teen. Characters mention two wars: the then-current Vietnam war, and World War II (part of an adult character's tongue was cut by Nazis). The novel also includes relatively innocent and clueless relationships between boys and girls that result in more conflict than romance, but one girl kisses a boy on the cheek.

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Teen, 13 years old Written bySarah Madden April 19, 2019

What's the story?

Julian Twerski's English teacher, Mr. Selkirk, has given Julian the opportunity to write a journal instead of studying Julius Caesar along with the rest of his Honors English class. Julian, who says he doesn't care for Shakespeare, recalls several events from the current school year, including an incident involving a rock and some pigeons, and some major misunderstandings about a love letter written for a friend. Julian lets himself be talked into some unfortunate behavior, and it's clear there's one mistake he doesn't want to address: something involving a boy named Stanley that apparently got Julian suspended from school. As he carries on writing his non-Caesar journal, Julian becomes increasingly philosophical about his friendships, and gains an understanding of what happened with Stanley, and an appreciation of Shakespeare.

Is it any good?

The point of view in TWERP is almost perfect -- that of a highly intelligent boy who nevertheless makes mistakes even he doesn't understand. Mark Goldblatt's portrayal of Julien is never precious or overly moralistic; his characters are funny, relatable, and human, and they suffer and blunder just like real middle school kids do. The period setting of the book adds interest, but the kids and events are universal and relatable. Twerp is a highly entertaining book that will help tweens understand themselves and their place in the world, and even some classic literature.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the differences between our time and 1969, when Twerp is set. What, if anything, would be different if the story took place today?

  • How is Twerp different from other rmiddle school books you've read?

  • Read some of the literature Julian reads in this novel (he finds these writings challenging but worth it): Shakespeare's Hamlet or Julius Caesar, or his sonnets, or the works of poet Philip Sidney. 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love humor and coming-of-age stories

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