Today is a special day for me, it’s my birthday! But, even more importantly, it’s my twin brother’s birthday. In honor of our shared big day, I found a book about a set of twins like us (kind of.)
Jerry Spinelli is an amazing writer, you may know him from Maniac McGee or Loser. Spinelli wrote this book in alternating chapters from each of the kids. The chapters often leave off in the middle of a sentence and the other twin picks up the thread of words. Jake and Lily are like many twins, being so close that they know what the other is thinking…but Jake and Lily have something more. They call it goombla. Goombla is the ability to sense when the other is in danger, or get a bruise from an injury sustained by their twin.
We’re not a regular boy and girl. We’re brother and sister. And we’re not regular brother and sister. We’re twins. And we’re not even regular twins. We’re special.
But then the kids turn 11. Their relationship begins to change. Jake is ready to hang out with a group of boys called the Death Rays and ditch Lily. Lily has no other friends to speak of and is lost, trying to comprehend this sudden change.
This book held a lot of meaning for me. My little brother (who is a few minutes younger and about a foot taller than me), was my best friend for a long time. I do remember the shift that separated us during our last year in high school. I remember feeling exactly like Lily does in this book, trying to force a kinship with her brother that just wasn’t there any longer.
Jake has new friends, but as he gets to be a part of their group, his way of thinking changes. The group is always searching for “goobers” and then they make fun of them. That isn’t unheard of, but one day they find what they call a Super Goober. The boys begin to talk to the boy, Ernie, gouging and digging at him with their words even though he doesn’t seem to notice.
At this point, I wasn’t sure I wanted Lily to get back to being friends with Jake. The Death Rays were so awful to Ernie, who was just a sweet kid. Thankfully, Jake and Lily’s grandpa has moved back to town and is able to offer Lily a shoulder to cry on. He also gives her motivation to move on. He explains that she is mourning the loss of Jake just as he mourned the death of his wife. While he empathizes with Lily, he also pushes her to create a life of her own.
As Lily finally begins to find herself, Jake is also facing the truth about who he has become. After a particularly mean stunt against Ernie, Jake must decide to cut ties with The Death Rays, or more specifically, Bump Stubbins, the leader. He must also find a way to make reparations to Ernie, who Jake called a Super Goober before he realized what a great friend Ernie could be.
The story has a good ending. Jake and Lily’s relationship has mended, but will never be the same. It isn’t about always being joined at the hip, it’s about always keeping the bond between twins, or any siblings, as strong as possible while still keeping your individuality.
Happy Birthday, little brother.