by Josiah | 1/31/2014
" Jerry Spinelli's books are reason for celebration. A hundred years after the release of Jake and Lily into a world of young readers starving for substance and the strengthening of our emotions and character that great literature offers, when Jerry Spinelli is no longer writing new stories and all we have left of him is a collection of transcendent juvenile novels that changed millions of hearts and affected billions of others, I hope we never lose the sense of what a gift it was each time Jerry Spinelli came out with a new book. Writing to get inside the protective seal of readers' emotions where a story can truly begin to work lasting magic on the human heart may be the goal of nearly every writer, but few are ever really able to accomplish it, and fewer still can get behind that stubborn seal virtually every time they lay paper to pen, easily prying open our defenses so the words they deliver go straight to the heart and aren't deflected by the shields we put up to stop them. Jerry Spinelli is such an author as this, a bird of such profound rarity that his novels almost deserve recognition as entities apart from everything else in the annals of literature. I have been with Jerry Spinelli on journeys like that of Jake and Lily before; several times, in fact (Maniac Magee, Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush?, Wringer, Love, Stargirl, Eggs and Crash being just a few), and I never come out on the other side of them the same person I was when I started. Never. Who can absorb the transient weight of hope and love and bitter, agonizing separation without one's essential mass being shifted and changed, settling unaware into new shapes and molds of comprehension and acceptance? Yet the uncommonly vivid emotions of Jerry Spinelli's books are really more a mirror for the reflection and ponderance of one's own basic feelings than the introduction of new or exotic reactions. A story like Jake and Lily, so much like Love, Stargirl before it, has the power to spin one's head with the resounding truth of the emotions it lays bare, because we recognize the depths of desperate pain in ourselves. We know the rending of two hearts connected by the fibers of love that should last forever but somehow, even under the best of circumstances, often do not, whether it's in friendship, romantic relationships or even between a brother and sister, as the case is for Jake and Lily. And this is why we can't help but feel so much at stake in the outcome of the story, hoping it will all lead back to some sort of happiness even as the characters' trails diverge in seemingly irreconcilable directions.
"What do you do while you're waiting for your life to happen?"
â€”Jake and Lily, P. 253
There have long been reports of twins exhibiting almost supernatural awareness of one another. Precognition, often called "twin telepathy", is a matter of fascination for many, both twins and non-twins, and Jake and Lily just may end up increasing that interest substantially among kids who read the book. Since the early morning hours of their sixth birthday, when Jake and Lily discovered through a mysterious sequence of symbiotic occurrences that their connection goes beyond the mere fact of having shared the same womb, the twins have enjoyed an on-again, off-again mental and physical link that borders at times on the paranormal. There have been examples of one twin sensing the other being in some kind of danger from miles away, knowing intuitively that their sibling needs help, but there's also a constant manifestation of extrasensory perception between Jake and Lily. Out loud or in their heads, the twins know what each other is thinking, and can usually finish the other twin's sentences. While Jake and Lily's parents know the bond their children share runs deep, far deeper than that of most siblings, no one but Jake and Lily knows the full extent of their connection, so rare that Lily has to come up with her own word to describe it, "goombla".
So what happens when one twin, Jake, decides there are a greater number of dissimilarities than common traits between him and his sister, and rebuts Lily's every argument to the contrary by pointing out how and why they aren't really the same? Jake and Lily have shared practically the same life for all their years, but things change when Jake's interest in creating points of distance between himself and his sister jumps from the realm of teasing into more sincere territory. The goombla that has tied the twins together since that one special birthday when they discovered they were more than average siblings slowly but surely starts to fade as Jake begins running with a new crowd of friends, boys who aren't interested in having Lily along on their mini adventures. And here is where the direction of the story seems to split: Lily is immediately preoccupied with turning her brother's conscious interest so life as she knew it can return to what it used to be, Jake and Lily together and against the rest of the world if necessary, with no possible competition to interrupt what they are to each other; Jake, on the other hand, moves further into his friendship with the group of boys from his neighborhood, the leader of which, named Bump, has been an annoyance to Lily since they were all kindergartners together. With the sudden losing of half of herself comes Lily's chance to create a temporary alignment of energies with her grandfather, Poppy, who has his own suggestions of how she should cope with Jake's rejection as it deepens and lengthens, stretching out for weeks and then months as Jake's habit of not making time to spend with Lily becomes almost a matter of proving something to everyone involved.
What is one supposed to do when the most important part of oneself wanders off in another direction? When the bastion of one's happiness and content chooses to vacate the role carved out so lovingly for him or her, what does that say about oneself? It can feel even stronger than a rejection; to the one left behind, it's a wordless condemnation. When two people are in synergy of purpose, intent, mission and emotion, both feeling the same level of affection and appreciation for the other, everything clicking into place as the relational echo chamber wonderfully magnifies the glories of its own existence, there's no more rewarding feeling to be shared between two people. Yet all too often, even after spending so much time on the same page with each other and finding such joy in being together, it is only one, not both, for whom the experience begins to fade first. And so the one half of the duo, confused by the other beginning to show signs of backing out from what still feels like such good times being had, can only watch as the symbiosis devolves into a meager shadow of what it used to be, having little idea what went wrong. To paraphrase the great Robert Cormier, two people often fall in love at the exact same moment, but they usually fall out of love at discordant junctures, and being the one left holding the empty bag of memories and a one-way love that still burns as brightly as ever may be the hardest thing one will ever face in life.
"How do you not try to get something you want?
How do you stop caring about the thing that you care about the most?
How do you erase the other half of your own self?"
â€”Jake and Lily, P. 251
I doubt I've ever read the words of an author better able than Jerry Spinelli to express the deepest pain of the human heart, the tiny coals of burning regret that scatter about when the fire of a relationship is snuffed out, lodging where they can do the most damage to tender, unprotected flesh. With deceptively simple descriptions, Jerry Spinelli paints using the entire emotional spectrum, not sparing any shade of the loss that wraps around our hearts and threatens to squeeze us to oblivion when we're left in the dust by the one who means more to us than anything. Lily's story won't end with her brother ditching her and their one-of-a-kind goombla to join up with a couple of boys forever, though. As Lily, at Poppy's behest, runs through a series of possible ways to move on and direct the course of her own life apart from her twin, and Jake finally starts to notice the last of their goombla atrophying into near nothingness from lack of trying on his part, the twins realize that the moment they're in today won't pause for them to make up their minds about what they want to do; time will change them, will change their life situations and maybe not even allow them to remain in proximity to each other, but with or without goombla, they will always be twins. Some mysteries of the universe may be eternal, or nearly so, but others are not nearly as unfathomable as they seem.
The perfection of Jerry Spinelli's writing is that of a simple emotional jigsaw puzzle that relies on more than beautiful words to communicate the sharp poignancy of the completed picture. The pieces of the puzzle, each one not especially spectacular in its own right, fit together seamlessly to create an effect substantially more powerful than the sum of its pieces, and for this reason, adequately conveying the greatness of a book like Jake and Lily may be impossible. I know I have no chance of even coming close to doing so in this review. It's hard even to pull out particularly notable quotes from Jake and Lily to help explain the book's overwhelming impact and matchless charm, though there are a few lines I must mention from the story. It's rare to find a description both as unassuming and apt as the following, about an ominous turn in what had been an innocent enough conversation: "It was like the last skinny sunbeam went behind a cloud and the sky was dark and getting darker and you knew you better pedal for home before you got wet." Then there's the first time Poppy nudges Lily toward considering branching out on her own in life apart from Jake, developing a personality and attitude separate from how she interacts her brother and testing the waters to see if there might be some other takers out there for her friendship. "It's true, there is something very special between you and Jake", Poppy says. "And it will always be there. But you can't allow it to stop you from becoming your own person. There's a life waiting for you away from Jake." This thought is echoed a few pages later in Lily's words: "Poppy says there's two of me. There's the Jake-and-Lily me. And there's the Just Lily me. It's the Just Lily me who needs a life. Because right now she's nobody." Well-intentioned advice, certainly, but Lily finds it's hard to take when someone means as much to a person as her twin brother does to her. Even Poppy affirms for her, when she's starting to lose hope of her goombla with Jake ever being the same, that "Once entangled, forever entangled", and Lily and Jake are nothing if not undeniably entangled.
"I guess every once in a while you have a day you just want to toss in the trash can", Jake writes at one point. I think most people will easily be able to relate to this statement, though the saving grace is in also having those days one would like to keep forever like trophies, like pictures proudly framed on one's bedroom wall. What a blessing, often a wholly unexpected one, those days are when they come. Yet trouble can spring up even in relationships one views as being of little risk, and the pain from it can be surprisingly acute. As Jake admits, in his own inimitable style of expression, "I've never been hated before. It's like sunburn on my heart." I know just what he means, too. When people think you're bad, just being yourself feels like a step in the wrong direction, an act of perverse disregard for the person you should want to be. Jake deals with this dilemma in his own way, feelings of guilt so strong he wonders why others don't see it and scorn him for his inadequacy. "I don't get it. People treat me like normal. Nobody calls me names. Nobody spits on me. My mother kisses me every night when I go to bed. Don't they know I'm The Big Disappointment?" As in so many other places in the story, Jerry Spinelli's brilliance of plainspoken expression says more than my commentary ever could. I can only stand in amazement at his mastery of the written word.
Jake and Lily feels so personal, so encompassingly insightful as a novel interwoven with the stuff of human experience from both the tearful and the joyous, that I can't imagine anyone to whom it would not be relevant. Jerry Spinelli is an all-time great whose literature bulges at the seams with more to take away from each story than one person probably could in a hundred lifetimes, and Jake and Lily continues the paving of a road to immortality started down so auspiciously with Space Station Seventh Grade in 1982. I would give at least three and a half stars to Jake and Lily, and there's an excellent chance I'd rate it as worthy of the full four stars.To readers who have mingled with and enjoyed Jerry Spinelli's writing in the past, my advice pertaining to this book is as follows: If you get a chance to read Jake and Lily, do it. You'll never be the same again. "