Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hush, by Eishes Chayil

The Hassidic communities of Brooklyn (and elsewhere) are so fascinating to me.  More fascinating than the crazy polygamists in the desert, more fascinating than the Amish.  Because they live right in the heart of 21st century industrialized urban culture, but they are completely separate from it.  They never speak to the goyim.  (That's us.)  They have never heard of Oprah.  They don't know how babies are made until the day before they get married. 

The protagonist of this book is Gittel, whose best friend Devory died when they were both nine years old.  Eventually you realize what had been happening to Devory--she was being raped by her older brother, whose Torah learning was praised by everyone.  Therefore, Devory must have been lying.  She ends up hanging herself in Gittel's bathroom.

You find that out about 1/3 of the way through the book, and the rest of the book is Gittel trying to make sense of what happened while the entire Hassidic community does everything possible to keep it quiet.

Pros:  This is a book about child abuse, but more than that, it's a peek into a culture that most teens know nothing about.  And unlike most teen books about ultra-religious sects, it's not the story of one teen's escape from that culture, which I liked.  The author is still a Hassidic Jew, writing under a pseudonym that means "Woman of Valor" in Yiddish.  It's not quite clear from her author's note if this story of abuse is hers, or of other children she knew.  But she makes it plain that many of the details are real.

Cons: Since the actual abuse isn't dwelt on, this probably won't be a hit with most of the teens who ask for A Child Called 'It' read-alikes.  (Not really a con for me personally.) 

The sexy pout "shut up so I can kiss you" cover is stupid.

Recommended for: High school students (probably girls, let's face it, although it wouldn't kill a boy to read a book like this)--maybe those who are fans of fantasy and historical fiction, and so have the patience for fairly elaborate world-building.

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