Jake and Lily are twins with a special, almost psychic connection they call “goombla.” This connection allows them to hear each other’s thoughts and even share the same dream every year on their birthday. As they approach adolescence, however, Lily feels Jake pulling away from her. While Lily pines for their close twin relationship and wishes to cling to it, Jake falls in with a gang of rowdy boys who pick on marginalized people they call “goobers.” Lily wants everything to go back the way it was, but with the help of the twins’ hippie grandfather she learns to let go and have a life of her own, which complements but does not destroy her bond with her brother.
I loved Jerry Spinelli when I was in eighth and ninth grade, but I sort of lost interest when Stargirl was published. To me, it felt like Spinelli had lost the unique point of view that created characters like Maniac Magee, and I couldn’t stand the overly sentimental tone of Stargirl. But the concept of this book appealed to me, and I have to say that Jake and Lily sounds more like the Spinelli whose writing I loved at thirteen. The book has lots and lots of heart, as do all Spinelli titles, but these kids feel authentic. They feel like real people, and their feelings mattered to me.
I really like the way the story is divided into two parts - one, which the twins tell together, trading short chapters to get the whole concept of “goombla” down on paper; and one which they tell separately in their journals as their painful period of separation begins. I like this unique approach because it gives the reader a sense of the twins as a unit and as individuals. It also really brought their two voices to life in such a way that I could practically hear them speaking to me.
Another wonderful aspect of this book is the concept of “goobers”. In a way, all of Spinelli’s books focus on “goobers” in one way or another, but the one I really couldn’t stop thinking about while I was reading was Loser. Ernie, who Jake and his new friends call a “supergoober” reminded me so much of Donald Zinkoff in Loser that I think there almost has to be a real person on whom these characters are based. The entire concept of “goobers” really gets at the heart of middle school bullying, but never in a preachy way. The adult voice never steps in to tell the reader picking on Ernie is wrong; Jake himself must decide the morality of his actions. The entire story is well written, but the way things unfold between Jake and Ernie is my favorite plot thread.
This wonderful book will affirm the growing up process for any tween struggling with change, and it’s a great read for both boys and girls. I think the best read-alikes I can recommend for it, aside from Loser and Maniac Magee, are Wendy Mass’s birthday books, 11 Birthdays, Finally, and 13 Gifts. Though I’m not completely sure that “goombla” is a magic power, the twins’ birthday dream and details surrounding it have a definite flavor of magical realism, as do these Mass titles. I think some of Andrew Clements’s books - especially titles like No Talking and Extra Credit, which are about relationships between two main characters - also compare well to Jake and Lily.
I borrowed Jake and Lily from my local public library.