Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2013 Contenders: Jake and Lily, by Jerry Spinelli

I hope it's not bad form to review a book that doesn't come out until May, but I couldn't wait. 

Jake and Lily are twins – the spooky kind. They hear each other's thoughts, sense when the other twin is in danger, and, most magically, sleepwalk together every year on their birthday. Lily wants to believe that they are a matched pair – alike in every way – but Jake has his doubts. In the summer of their eleventh year, Jake finally moves into his own bedroom, and the twins begin the painful process of differentiation.

I was hooked from the first chapter, which is narrated in alternating lines by the twins. The immediacy, wit, and authenticity of the language quickly establishes both the closeness of the sibling relationship and the conflict just beneath the surface. The twins take turns narrating subsequent chapters – first as a collective memoir, and then, after Jake moves out, as entries in separate journals. This structure ingeniously mirrors the plot: as Jake and Lily grow apart, so do their stories. The theme of belonging vs. differentiation is echoed in the story of their ex-hippie grandfather, Poppy, and in a tense subplot about a local bully. Vivid imagery grounds the book firmly in a sort of suburban every-town, and also amplifies the sense of wonder during the interludes of magical realism. 

I have only a couple of quibbles. First, the book seems too long by about fifty pages. It bogs down in the last third, and the slow pace combined with the urgent tone reminded me (not in a good way) of Keeper, by Kathi Appelt. I would also like to have gotten to know the parents better. Mom and Dad are written nearly identically, which is ironic, given the context. 

Overall though, Spinelli has written another winner.

HarperCollins - May 2012

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