“I’ve been going to Yeshiva where I study Talmud and Torah. Then I’ve been coming home where I study Talmud and Torah,” he says.
“Wow. You’re a wild man.”
“I’m a wild man? How so?” he squints his eyes, earnestly.
“Just out of curiosity, Beryl, what exactly do you learn from all that Torah reading?”
“All the lessons you need to live your life as a righteous person who does mitzvot?”
“Is that all?” I say.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“I’m being sarcastic. What I mean is, how can one book tell you all that?”
Then he hesitates for a moment as if he’s pondering this question.
“It’s a very good book,” he finally says.
The good stuff
- Humor and truth: The above gives you some idea of the repartee and wit of this book. Some sentences made me actually guffaw: “What is it about mild, meek people that makes you want to smack them?” (p. 155)
- Inner growth: Amy’s idea that she is a terrible, self-centered person is something most girls around the eighth-grade age could resonate with. Her eventual acceptance of her best friend’s (temporary) move to Kansas, the transformation of a crush to a friendship with “hunkalicious” John Leibler, and her acceptance of others not like her–the elder Miss Sophia and the Orthodox Beryl Plotsky, Sophia’s nephew, fuel this growth. You could almost hear the sounds of Amy’s preconceptions shattering.
- Epistolary format: It works! The book is told in a series of e-mails to Amy’s friend Callie in Kansas.
- One-act/one-scene plays: This reminded me of the notes my best friend and I used to pass each other in class. These plays humorously and dramatically show Amy’s state of mind and sentiment.
- Beryl: I loved how Amy makes an analogy of his life and the life of an immigrant girl she’s studying in Social Studies. He’s such a mensch! The scenes with his family at their home are warm and loving. To me, Beryl was the most intriguing character.
- The Dream Team: Imagine a spunky, good-hearted, foot-often-in-the-mouth young girl, an elderly former librarian who wears ensembles from Lord & Taylor, and a Yiddish-speaking Orthodox boy who plays piano as an investigative team. Could this be the foundation for a possible TV series?
- The cover: Amy’s expression says it all.
The not-so-good stuff
- Not enough of Amy’s family: The scenes with Amy’s brother, Kevin, and her parents are great, but few. The family disappears for the last third of the book.
- Word choices: At times, the writing felt like Laura and not Amy. The word choices were rather sophisticated and felt nostalgic instead of contemporary.
4.8 out of 5.0