by Melanie Heuiser Hill
I’m generally a reader of “traditional novels,” by which I mean novels that have chapters with titles, paragraphs with grammatically correct sentences, and perhaps the occasional complementary art under the chapter number. I’m intentional about expanding my horizons and reading graphic novels, hybrids, and the like…but I still have to be intentional about it, I’m afraid. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the comfortable, traditional format, even as I’m often wowed by the untraditional.
The Tapper Twins Go To War (With Each Other) came across my radar and was accompanied by positive reviews from people I respect a great deal, so I requested it at my friendly local library. It came. I stood in the library, flipping through, shocked at what I saw.
I must have the wrong book, I thought. It was the only explanation I could think of. So I looked up the recommendation again. I had the right book.
I handed it to my thirteen-year-old daughter, who is much more…open. And I listened to her laugh in her room that evening while she read it. The next day, she handed it to me and said, “Must read, Mom!”
“You’ll love it. Besides, it’s a New York Book.”
I love New York Books.
The story of Claudia and Reese Tapper, twelve-year-old twins, and their war is told as an “oral history.” It looks much like a screen play in many places. (Geoff Rodkey is, in fact, a screenwriter.) But it also includes computer screenshots, gaming digital art, text messages between the parents, and doctored photos. There are handwritten “edits and additions,” lots of arrows drawn with these edits and additions, and many references to Wikipedia-told history. It is, in short…well, quite different than my usual traditional novels.
Then I read it. And I laughed out loud. In my office, all by myself. Laughed and laughed. Loved it. I’ve spent quite a bit of time around middle schoolers in recent years and Claudia and Reese and their friends beautifully capture the diversity of maturity, zaniness, and crazy energy of this age group. Claudia is a pulled-together, bossy, know-it-all who is thoroughly exasperated by her twin brother. Reese is such a twelve-year-old boy, and therefore sort of bewildered by his sister. Their friends are variations on similar themes. The dialogue is spot on, the escalation of the conflict true to form, and the relationship between siblings, friends, and the middle school as a whole is pretty perfectly depicted. Through computer screenshots, gaming art, text messages, doctored phots…..
Claudia interviews the combatants and serves as the primary narrator of the story of the war, which starts as a series of pranks and escalates to serious (though not frightening) proportions. She includes the testimony of her clueless parents (hilarious all on their own), the inept nanny, the allies, bystanders, and enemies. She is the one who draws the arrows and makes the corrections and additions to everyone’s testimony.
The relationships are complicated and the misunderstandings numerous. But the novel circles back in a very good way—and there are some “teachable moments,” actually, if a parent/teacher-type doesn’t ruin it by calling attention to them. Kids can learn a lot about how things look from different points of view, how social media can complicate things in ways you can’t predict, and how embarrassments can turn into more or less than that depending on how we react to them. I’m glad my social media newbie read it.
Picking up my copy of The Tapper Twins Tear Up New York tomorrow! I’m a fan!