Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Like the main character in Twisted, Laurie Halse Anderson's new book, I have experienced a conflict lately between what I want to do, and what I need to do. Hence the delay in writing to this blog.

However, my sojourn as a summer school teacher has ended (at least for the moment), and so I am once again able to do what I want to do: write about young adult literature.

Like Nightrise, Twisted is a novel not on my self-selected list of literature for this project. It's a book published in 2007 that I saw recently in a bookstore and couldn't resist purchasing and reading. Laurie Halse Anderson is a terrific writer, best known for her now classic novel Speak. Anyone who has read anything before by her probably needs little encouragement to pick up this new work.

Fans of Speak and Laurie Halse Anderson will be pleased, for the most part, with Twisted. It tells the story of Tyler, a rising high school senior and his pursuit of Bethany Milbury, a very cute, very wealthy, very popular girl in his class. Unfortunately for Tyler, he is anything but popular; when we meet him, at the start of the novel, he is just finishing up a summer job working with the janitors at his public high school. Tyler did not choose this job; rather, he got stuck with it as a punishment for defacing school property at the end of his junior year.

Tyler has other issues to deal with, too: his father needs an anger management course and would benefit from a seminar by Stephen Covey; his mother has passivity issues and a strange affection for family photographs at Christmas; and his best friend Yoda, a happily un-self-conscious dork, is in love with his younger sister, Hannah. All of this--plus the fact that Tyler has always been extremely unpopular, unattractive, and the victim of various bullies--creates significant obstacles for him to surmount if he is to hook up with the exciting, vivacious, Bethany Milbury.

Anderson is the master of the problem novel, and she presents problems galor in this work. But the pacing of Twisted is uneven. The plot unravels without much clear direction through the first 2/3 of the book, and only turns toward the end into a focused and compelling cliff hanger. Nevertheless, Anderson offers surprising and important insights into the thinking of teenage males and especially the dynamics of suburban American culture. I expect Twisted to be named a Best Book for Young Adults in 2008, and maybe even a Printz Honor Book as well.

Eighth graders and high school students will love this book; however, parents of younger adolescents might want to advise their children to wait just a little bit before jumping in. The situations tend to be oriented toward older adolescents and topics such as drinking, driving, sex, and suicide. A note on the inside cover of the novel says "THIS IS NOT A BOOK FOR CHILDREN." While this is part marketing gimmick, it also is very true.

My guess is that teachers will not incorporate Twisted into their high school curricula in the same way that they have Speak. The flaws in the plot structure make it less appealing, and it gives voice to some very disturbing interior thoughts and subject matter. However, Twisted's insights on youth culture, family relationships, and communication issues make this an important book, one that ought to be read by young adults of all ages.

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