After a lifetime of invisibility and bullying, all Tyler Miller wants is to be noticed — and quickly. One “Foul Deed” later, Tyler has earned a reputation as a borderline criminal, has a tanned, muscular build from community service and is suddenly attractive to his classmates. Returning to school after a summer of manual labor, Tyler has changed — and everyone seems to be paying attention.
Including Bethany Milbury, the gorgeous senior girl of Tyler’s often inappropriate dreams. Tyler’s bad boy reputation catches Bethany’s attention for the first time, but her twin brother Chip isn’t going to sit back idly and watch any affection develop between the two of them. Tyler has been dodging Chip’s punches for years and, starting the school year at a new height of 6’3″, he finally has the advantage over him — not that Chip would ever admit it.
And neither of the boys would ever acknowledge, or appreciate, how much they actually have in common. Tyler’s father is a verbally abusive minion of a man, reviled by his wife, son and daughter Hannah. The Miller family portrays the classic “cookie cutter,” white-picket-fence on the outside but can’t conceal the cracks in their “perfect” existence. After Tyler’s “Foul Deed,” Mr. Miller cracks down even harder on his son. Likewise, Chip and Bethany’s parents seem to push them both to a near breaking point, always demanding more and more — nothing less than perfection.
Like Speak and Catalyst, two of Laurie Halse Anderson’s acclaimed novels, Twisted is outstanding — nuanced, powerful and unforgettable. Tyler is an excellent, multi-facted character who grapples with a difficult and frightening relationship with his father, the weight of holding his family together, lust and despair at loving and losing and the general pangs of growing up. I was empathetic throughout the novel, but I never felt sorry for him. I didn’t feel like he would want me to! Despite all of the adversity and the “twist” (no pun intended) in plot about halfway through, Tyler never seemed to be totally out of control . . . until he was. The scenes in which he grapples with death — the meaning of it, the release of it — are unforgettable.
Before the novel even begins, a title page warns that “this is not a book for children.” I’ve never seen a caution like that before, but it was certainly warranted. As I was reading, Twisted didn’t feel like a “dark” story, but it was. Verbal abuse, sex, victimization and school violence/bullying all have starring roles in this one, but I never cringed or rolled my eyes at any of the plot points. Everything felt authentic to me. And the fact that a woman author so clearly wrote from the perspective of a 17-year-old young man is amazing to me! Having known plenty of teenage boys, I totally bought it.
The whole story was compulsively readable. I stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish the novel — on a work night! But it was worth it. Anderson is an amazing, detailed and powerful author who understands young adults like no other author I’ve read. Like all of her books, I’ll be thinking about Twisted for quite a while.
4.5 out of 5