Jerry Spinelli’s ‘Jake and Lily’: When twins diverge

May 2, 2012

JAKE AND LILY

By Jerry Spinelli

Balzer + Bray. $15.99. Ages 8-12

Even before the current boom in multiple births, twins loomed large in children’s literature, from the duos in popular series such as “The Bobbsey Twin” and “Sweet Valley High” to the complexly drawn pair in “Jacob Have I Loved,” the Newbery-winning novel by Katherine Paterson. But literary twins — forever friend, doppelganger, double the fun — were rarely explored with nuance in children’s novels, especially in terms of the developmental issues faced by most tweens. Until Jerry Spinelli, that is. In his new book, “Jake and Lily,” the Newbery Medalist (for “Maniac Magee”) chronicles with humor and compassion the changing relationship between fraternal twins. Both Jake and Lily must consider a question key to their growth as individuals: Who am I without my twin? Previously inseparable, the two begin to answer that question differently in the summer before sixth grade. Jake is sure that he is one of a group of neighborhood guys who play pranks and avoid girls. And Lily is sure that she is devastated. Each tells his or her version of events — and often responds to the other’s tale — in alternating first-person chapters. This structure keeps the reader from vilifying one or the other as Jake pulls away and Lily mopes and snipes. But through the laugh-worthy twists and poignant turns of a plot that includes a nomadic grandfather, a charismatic bad boy and a bullied kid, Jake and Lily are forced to confront their dark sides and rely on inner strength — and come to a new understanding of their relationship.


“Jake and Lily” by Jerry Spinelli. (Balzer + Bray)

Mary Quattlebaum

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