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Yeshiva Girl

I don’t have any kind of plan as to the books I read. I come to them or they come to me in all kinds of different ways. I like it that way. I read Yeshiva Girl by Rachel Mankowitz because I’ve followed Rachel’s blog, The Cricket Pages for quite some time.

Her blog came to my attention because I noticed somebody named Rachel Mankowitz was persistently liking posts here at 27th Street. This was immediately noticeable to me because this little blog receives very few likes indeed, and has a limited supply of return visitors (if all the dog pictures don’t scare them away, the banjo music surely does). I had to ask myself, who was this person who kept coming back?

When I read on her blog that Rachel had a book about to be published, I wanted to read it right away. I think that is a testament to the quality of her blog, which is at once personal, funny and disarming (go read it – you’ll like it too). I ordered up a copy of Yeshiva Girl on Amazon, looking forward to its arrival in the post.

Here’s what the author says about her first novel:

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

My first thought was, how am I going to relate to this novel? It’s written in the voice of a 15 year old girl, Isabel. What do I know about 15 year old girls? Almost nothing, that’s what. Izzy’s father, who has upped the ante on his religiosity, has sent his daughter to a yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish School. I know even less about Orthodox Judaism than I do about 15 year old girls. Fortunately, one of the joys of fiction is it opens the door to all kinds of different worlds, extends our experience and tests our empathy.

I needn’t have worried if I would or could relate to this novel. I was pulled in from the first few pages. Ms. Mankowitz has done a fine job developing her main character. Izzy is bright and funny and complex – and she’s hurting, trying to survive an untenable family situation and at the same time cope with a new school with a highly religious focus and find new friends she could trust and depend on. The novel is well paced, a page-turner, and I found myself cheering Isabel on, chapter to chapter.

Yeshiva Girl is a terrific book. Highly recommended.

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