Although I didn’t realize it when I started listening, Finding the Worm by Mark Goldblatt is apparently the sequel to his acclaimed middle-grade novel, Twerp. It didn’t really matter that this was a second book and I hadn’t read the first; it stood on its own just fine. Better than fine, in fact – I found it realistic, engaging, and moving.
Julian Twerski – and his group of neighborhood friends – is now twelve years old and in seventh grade in Brooklyn in 1970. The gang is still much the same but things around them are changing in unforeseen ways. The boys are all turning thirteen this year and having their bar mitzvahs. Beverly, who also lives on the block, keeps pestering Julian to race her, and he feels weird when he is around her. Julian is in trouble at school again – this time, for something he didn’t do. He’s been accused of vandalizing a painting in school, and even though he insists he didn’t do it, the principal wants him to write an essay on good citizenship. When Julian turns in a page of 200 “no”s instead, the battle is on.
All of that pales in comparison, though, to the friends’ biggest challenge – one of their own, Quentin, has cancer. Seeing their buddy lying helplessly in a hospital bed changes everything. As the school year progresses, Julian continues to turn in mocking essays, Beverly continues to insist on racing him, and the friends do their best to help Quentin however they can. All of this gives Julian a lot to think about, and besides talking to his rabbi during his bar mitzvah preparation meetings, he also turns again to his journal to try to figure things out.
I loved this very realistic audiobook about friendship and growing up. The setting in 1970 Brooklyn was perfect, with the ragtag group of friends – who originally came together just by virtue of living on the same block – reminding me of the original Sandlot movie (an old favorite at our house). The audio was well done, with a believable narrator who brought me back to those middle-school days, when small conflicts felt like major tragedies. However, with Quentin’s cancer at the heart of the novel, the story also has great emotional depth; it is incredibly moving and heartfelt, while also keeping a sense of humor. All around, this is an engrossing, warm novel with real-life emotion.
Listen to an audio sample at the below link: