Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Separation Anxiety: Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli

This is a story about me, Lily.

And me, Jake.

We're twins and we're exactly alike.

Not exactly!

Whatever. This is a book we wrote about the summer we turned eleven and Jake ditched me.

Jake and Lily are fraternal twins, boy and girl, true, but close in a way that only twins can be. They only discover how close they are when, on their sixth birthday, they both awake from identical sleepwalking dreams of their birth:

And when we awoke that night hand in hand at the train station, and it's like the rest of us was finally born. We knew. At last we knew.

It's like a beautiful present had been sitting there for six years and we never noticed it and then finally we did and we tore it open, and... wow! the present was us.

We knew that not everybody can hear their brother from five miles away. We knew that not everybody yells, "I'm stuck!" when it's happening to somebody else.

What an amazing night, the night we unwrapped ourselves.

Jake and Lily discover that they can read each other's thoughts and emotions, that they can communicate silently, across any distance, and sense each other's emotions. Lily christens their special power "goombla." Sure, they're not mirror images, like identical twins. Lily is hot-headed and impetuous, and Jake is more contemplative and slow to speak and act, but they know each other in a unique way. For ten years this closeness makes them want to do everything together, to keep that special feeling of oneness going.

But then, as their eleventh year approaches, that poignant year that is the best of childhood and the end of childhood, things suddenly change. Jake doesn't want to ride bikes with Lily: he wants to ride around with a group of guys who call themselves "the Posse" and spend time looking for nerdy kids ("goobers") to tease and ridicule. Lily suddenly feels torn from part of herself, and she casts about futilely for a way to regain that lost closeness.

Lilly turns to her grandfather, a self-proclaimed "old hippie" who knows since the death of his wife what it means to lose a part of yourself. He tries to counsel Lily, telling her she has to find the "Just Lily" part of her real self and suggests she find an interest that she doesn't share with Jake, a hobby or another friend. Lily's first tries at defining herself are failures, and for the first time she experiences what it means to feel alone and lonely.

Meanwhile, Jake's guy fun begins to pale, as the gang settles upon one "goober," a new kid in the neighborhood--Ernest, a super smart, super-dorky type whose guileless gratitude for what he construes as the gang's "friendship" keeps their loutish leader, The Bumpster, in stitches as he leads his cohorts into tormenting Ernie, vandalizing his tottering clubhouse over and over as Ernie patiently rebuilds. Jake likes the burping contests, the junk-food binges in their "hideout," and riding around town looking cool that goes with membership in the Posse, but he realizes that he's actually beginning to like and respect the off-beat Ernie, and his guilt at their bullying begins to separate him from his buddies. Lily also feels herself changing. Suddenly she meets a new girl and they fall into an easy, empathetic friendship that mirrors the one she's known with her brother.

Is this the end of her special goombla with Jake? Does this summer mean there is no special relationship in the future for the twins?

It's not easy to write absorbing psychological fiction for elementary readers, but as his top-selling, Newbery-winning Maniac Magee proves, Jerry Spinelli is a master of his craft, taking us inside his character's minds while spinning out fast-paced middle reader action with the best of them. In his latest, Jake and Lily (HarperCollins, 2012) Spinelli uses alternating chapters to tell Jake and Lily's story of that definitive summer in their own voices, a summer which leaves them with a new sense of self and a new understanding for the other as well.

Says Publishers Weekly, "Spinelli adroitly balances emotional tension with introspective moments in this smart and funny story about a pair of twins growing apart."

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home