Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Book Review

The following is a review that was recently published in a local paper.


“Book Review of Twisted by Tom Varner

Laurie Halse Anderson is an author who has gained prominence in recent years for her powerful and engaging novels examining the frustrations, struggles, and trials facing Americans told from the perspective of teenagers. Most of Anderson’s writings so far have centered upon female protagonists, surrounded by mostly female characters. In her latest work, Twisted, Anderson has abandoned the female mindset and has written a novel told from the perspective of a typical American suburban teenage male. In facing the challenge, she has written a forceful and provocative piece of literature that is one of the best examinations of the suburban American teenage male mindset ever produced.

The story is told from the point of view of Tyler Miller. Tyler is just an average, overlooked high school student. He does well in most his classes, has an easy-going attitude, and is rather friendly. However, he doesn’t play sports, come from a wealthy family, or have a great physique and is therefore just one of many nameless faces at George Washington High School. Tired of being a nobody, at the end of his junior year he commits the Foul Deed. The Foul Deed gains him high school infamy, but also trouble with the judicial system which sentences him to a summer of community service and probation. He spends most of his summer tarring roofs and doing landscaping work. At the end of summer, he finds he’s grown to almost six feet and his flabby frame is as solid as chiseled granite.

People start noticing Tyler, including the queen bee of his high school, Bethany Miller. Bethany is Tyler’s dream girl, but there are some major obstacles that lie between them. To begin with, Tyler is middle class and Bethany is from a very wealthy family. Her father also happens to be Tyler’s Dad’s boss and her twin brother is Tyler’s arch nemesis. At first, Tyler seems capable of dealing with these issues, but events at a rowdy party after a football game leave Tyler facing a possible jail sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Dark thoughts pound his mind and the only thing he is sure about is how complicated and twisted his life is.

Though marketed as a young adult novel, Twisted is a book that cannot be pigeon-holed by genre because it examines issues that face each of us as we try to live our lives as best we can in the hyper-post-modern era. We live in a culture and society that is constantly changing. Some people would argue that these changes are for the better. To an extent, I would agree, but only to an extent because change just for the sake of change is seldom a good thing. Traditions and the status quo sometimes are a barrier to creativity and originality, but they have a place in society and culture for rational reasons, but they are unfortunately systematically being slowly erased. For example, there used to be a time when boys were boys and men were men. There was no in between phase and no one had to be explained the difference. In our current culture, boys no longer know how to become men. Physically, many boys appear to be men, but their emotions and mentality remain that of a boy. Advertising saturates us with messages that conflict with our innermost sense of self but also appeals to the most primal urges within each of us which causes old boys and young men to have a mental life full of anger, confusion, and frustration.

Then there’s the public education system itself. Anyone who doesn’t want to acknowledge that our public education system, especially at the high school level, is living in an imaginary world. In the U.S. we have attempted to do what no other country in history has ever done before by providing the same basic education to everyone regardless of ability. It’s a noble ideal. Unfortunately the ideal will never be realized if the current system remains the way it is. Extremely talented and creative children are being left behind, their gifts and talents unacknowledged and unrecognized. Instead of being the pantheons devoted to education, civic training, and morality that they were built to be, many of the public high schools in America have become little more than semi-restricted centers of social experimentation. These are just a few examples of the issues that Twisted examines.

The book is prefaced by a short warning that declares “NOTE: THIS IS NOT A BOOK FOR CHILDREN.” That warning is necessary because even though TWISTED is marketed as a young adult novel, it’s a novel not intended for children. There is some crude and foul language, there is a great deal of violence, and includes some images of sexuality. There are many teenagers will read this book and I hope that when they do they can take something positive away from it. This author hopes, however, that more adults than teenagers will read it. It is so insightful and powerful that any adult who works with teenage boys should require themselves to read it.

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