Allison's Book Bag

Two Kids by Richard Levine

Posted on: August 21, 2015

Two Kids by Richard Levine has potential. Sadly, what could have been an endearing story of how two middle-school students develop a friendship after each of their families experiences tragedy gets mired down with the inclusion of numerous irrelevant small moments. In addition, a rambling style with an idiosyncratic word choice style rambles causes the action to drag. Even so, if redesigned as a series of quirky journal entries, Two Kids still might have made it onto my recommended books list.

Blurbs describe Two Kids as being a “character-driven portrayal of modern youth set in the New York suburbs”. This seems like an apt description. Rob fancies headlines and even describes his days in terms of them. After his cousin’s birthday party, he comes up with: “Party Over, Cheek Kisses Exchange”. Rob also enjoys the beach and baseball, among other things. D.C. likes being known by her initials, believing that it adds a little mystery to who one is, and is gawky and tall. At the party, she wears a t-shirt from her mom’s candy store, of which knows a lot and is quite proud.

Near the start of the novel, tragedy hits both of their lives. After issuing a challenge to his dad to prove who’s the best basketball player between them, Rob loses his dad to a heart attack. As for D.C., her mom also ends up in emergency, where she loses her baby in childbirth. I expected subsequent chapters to revolve around the two aforementioned tragedies, but instead these events almost feel incidental. Only one chapter is dedicated to sharing how the two young people feel, which is obviously sad. D.C. does note that it takes a month for her mom to return to family life and Rob does refers to how he’ll dream his dad is still alive. After that though, minimal attention is devoted to showing how death has impacted the two.

Instead Levine choses to focus on the everyday highs and lows of the average middle-school adolescent. Granted, there are sweet moments, especially as a romance blossoms between Rob and D.C.. Unfortunately, far too many moments serve only to interrupt an already loose-knit plot. The worse offender is a chapter called Snakes on a Lane. In it, D.C. goes for a jog and gets spooked by a snake. After picking herself up and continuing, she encounters a fawn and later a pond with dragonflies, grasshoppers, and butterflies. This might be a pleasant moment in real life, but in Two Kids it simply feels like a character snippet that should have been cut. Other examples also revolve around descriptions, that of people and even topics as mundane as the weather. While these type of lackadaisical moments used to regularly appear in classics, with some even being well-loved, they’re considered unacceptable in modern middle-school fare and consequentially create an outdated feel to Two Kids.

Verbosity also hurts Two Kids.  Take for example the passage about biology class. Rob not only describes his Spanish teacher, but he tells us how his classmates view her, and how he views her, and how the vice-principal fawns over her. Then he proceeds to describe the vice-principal and how full he is of himself, and how classmates mimic him, and…. Buried within this long-winded passage is a significant moment. The Spanish teacher requires students to get a letter signed that explained to parents how disrespectful their child had acted. When Rob returns his, the teacher lectures him for not having both parents sign, ignoring that Rob’s dad has died. Apparently, Levine himself experienced an incident like this which adds to the poignancy here, but like many other sections the text needed more edits to make a clean read.

While plot and style lack polish, Two Kids still might have made my “borrow it” list if a better design had been employed. This might seem like an odd statement to make about a novel, but I believe it’s a worthwhile point. Consider that a week ago, I reviewed another middle-school novel that worked partly at least because of the snappy title, fun cover, and the journal-like inside pages. In contrast, Levine’s novel has the simplistic title of Two Kids and is accompanied by a plain cover that merely features two kids in sports attire and inside pages with dense forbidding text.

A rule-of-thumb for agents and publishers is that if the first five pages don’t appeal, one shouldn’t read the book. Unless a book offends me, I prefer to give authors more grace. In doing so, I discovered that Two Kids is sweet with a lot of heart. Regrettably, those two traits still aren’t quite enough to make me recommend it.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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