By Laurie Halse Anderson Listening Library, 2007 Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on May 8th 2007
While Laurie Halse Anderson is best known for her fiction depicting the emotional lives of American girls, her new young-adult novel Twisted has 17-year-old Tyler for its narrator. Her descriptions often focus on his bodily reactions: in the first few pages, when the beautiful bikini-clad Bethany Millbury, a tennis player raising money by doing a car wash, leans in the family car while he is sitting in the back, his jeans tighten near the zipper. Tyler has been working for a garden landscape business over the summer, and his muscles have developed spectacularly. He is now 6'3" and 195, his mother boasts to Bethany's mother. Tyler is now taller and stronger than his father, who works for Bethany's father. The girls at school all notice how Tyler has changed over the summer, and they are impressed.
The other reason Tyler's reputation at school is different for his senior year is that at the end of his junior year, he spray painted graffiti at school and got caught. He had to sell his car and get a job to pay for the damage he had caused, and he also had to do community service and see his parole office regularly. So now he has a reputation as a trouble maker, which changes people's attitude toward him. Teachers dislike him, but many of the students like him more.
For much of the novel, it isn't clear what drove Tyler to commit this act of vandalism. It seems like it was just a prank. However, as the story unfolds, it gets clearer that Tyler is deeply unhappy, and his father is the main cause. His father works long hours and comes home in a foul mood, ordering everyone around, railing against his family's deficiencies, and then disappearing into his basement office. Tyler's mother resorts to drink to cope with her own unhappiness, when she is not fighting with her husband. When Tyler talks about wanting to die, it seems as if he is just being flip but gradually the reader will come to realize that he is serious: he really is desperate. Then he starts thinking about the gun that his father keeps hidden away. As life gets more difficult for Tyler, the temptation of using the gun increases.
Despite the serious psychological themes of the novel, Anderson keeps the tone of the novel light most of the time. Tyler has good friendship with his buddy who he calls Yoda, who is interested in dating Tyler's 14-year-old sister Hannah, and the three of them often joke around. Tyler makes self-deprecating and sardonic comments as he tells his tightly plotted story, and the book has plenty of dialog, so it is very readable. He has recurrent violent fantasies of beating up other males, especially his own father and Bethany's unpleasant brother Chip, which seem quirky at first, only gradually revealing themselves as being more disturbing. It is another device with which Anderson makes the difficult themes of dysfunctional families, teen suicide, and teen violence more palatable.
The unabridged audiobook performed by Mike Chamberlain is done well. Chamberlain sounds older than 17, but his voice has a good variety of intonation and he has plenty of energy.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.