Before gifting this young adult novel to two bar mitzvah boys, I pre-ordered the book by Isaac Blum and discreetly read it through. To make sure it was a good book to give to two bar mitzvah boys. And I found it was more than good. It was very good. And “very good” is what God said, on the sixth day, about humans: “very good”, as opposed to ALL the rest of creation, which was only “good”. So that’s high praise.
The book was immediately engaging and very funny. (Remember what God meant by very.) The humor, the wry observant eye, makes it kind of like an Orthodox Yeshiva boy “Catcher in the Rye”. The story was believable enough, but the brightly drawn characters were totally believable. Trust worthy. I also found Anne-Marie, Hoodie’s love interest, and Zippy, Hoodie’s excellent older sister, adorable.
It also provided an insight into a contemporary Orthodox Jewish world with which I am only faintly familiar. It immediately reminded me of how as a teen I learned, in “The Chosen”, a sympathetic humanistic novel by Chaim Potok, about the world of Hasidim in Brooklyn, and met Orthodox boys, friends and enemies, whose fathers were alternately the head of a Jewish Hasidic court, and a professor of psychology at a New York university. True, “The Chosen” was not a YA novel, and Tregaron, the semi-fictional Eastern seaboard town to which Hoodie Rosen and his family have recently moved, is not Brooklyn or Manhattan, and World War II is not going on in the background. But then again, the 2020s are not the 1940s. And there’s merit in the novel’s contemporariness.
As in Romeo and Juliet, Hoodie finds himself falling in love for the first time with the daughter of the enemy tribe. Not only is Anne-Marie non-Jewish, but she is the daughter of the mayor whose town council is opposed to Hoodie’s community moving into Tregaron. But the treatment of Hoodie’s predicament was not simplistic. And Anne-Marie’s Freudian parental triangle relationship provided an insight into young womanhood that I found very interesting.
It was also a suspense novel, especially for me, who was in suspense as to how the YA novel would end. And I won’t give it away here. It would ruin the suspense and part of the fun of reading this book. But between its wonderful humor, honest engaging account of a very real Hoodie Rosen, the tender treatment of first love (I actually cried after reading the brief exchange of text messages between them, separated by a chasm of the cellphone-free Sabbath), and learning in a sympathetic way about an authentic part of Jewish life in America with which many are only faintly familiar, I have concluded that “The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen” is not just a good gift to give a bar mitzvah boy, it’s very good.