Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
I loved Speak and when someone told me that Twisted was Speak for guys, I had to read it.
The New York Times Book Review (Oct. 27, 2009) tells us that Anderson’s “novel Speak (1999) was one of the first seriously good books published for teenagers to be read widely by them. It tells the story of Melinda Sordino, a clanless outcast who barely endures her freshman year at a suburban high school, and it features one of the best young narrative voices this side of Holden Caulfield.”
So, did Twisted meet the high mark of Speak? Well, it might be too much to ask for another book that good by the same author, but I think Twisted comes close.
Tyler is a former geek with a geek best friend. At the end of his junior year, when he’s had it with being a bullied nobody, he spray paints graffiti all over his school. (He regrets misspelling ‘testicle.’) He’s caught. His punishment is to do community service hours with a landscape community. In doing so, he builds big muscles and gets a great tan. He begins his senior year looking beautiful and attracting the goddess girl of his dreams—Bethany Milbury, sister of the jock who antagonizes him, daughter of Tyler’s father’s boss. So, yeah, Tyler’s life is still complicated.
Tyler seems to be trending lightly, but somewhat successfully, between two worlds. That is until Bethany invites him to a wild party where she proceeds to get very drunk and asks Tyler to have sex with her. Of course, he wants to. But if he doesn’t, he thinks he can be a sort of hero to her, the good guy—and that she’ll really love him. But that’s not what happens. Especially not after sexually explicit pictures of an unconscious Bethany hit the Internet and Tyler is accused of this assault.
There are many good themes in this book—much about class privilege and the rich always coming out on top; teens making ethical choices; how teens are viewed as ‘bad’ people after one mistake; how rotten parents (Tyler’s dad is cruel and emotionally abuse) affect the course of a kid’s life—and whether the kid can alter that course. Twisted will speak to all readers, but especially to guys who are just trying to do the right thing.