Walker Books for Young Readers
September 14, 2010
As part of Bloombury's Blog Tours, I was able to review Eishes Chayil's Hush, I also have a contest at the end of the post--so stick around :)
Synopsis: Meaning women of valor in Hebrew, Eishes Chayil is the pen name of a young Chassidic New York woman. Growing up in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Gittel and her whole family, really her whole life is part of the very insular Chassidic Jewish community in which she lives.
Their community, where most Chassidim live is governed by very set rules written centuries ago; rules that determine everything from what they can eat to pet ownership to what they can wear. Holiness, humility and being humble are everything to the Chassidim.
Gittel isn't even supposed to tell her friends about the goy (non-Jew) upstairs neighbor Kathy--or the sort-of Kosher candy Kathy gives her.
One person who does know about Kathy is Gittel's best friend Devory. The first half of Hush is interludes of Gittel--and Devory's young lives. Everything from Purim (a holiday they celebrate) to school to some of the things they aren't supposed to exactly do. Each chapter of their young selves in alternated with a chapter of Gittel as she's finishing high school and looking back on the events six years earlier (There's, later, another period that finishes things up.). Events that include Devory's death.
It's not made clear right away how or why Devory died, but it is made clear that no one's talking about it or dealing with it. It's something that's been swept under the rug.
Hush, is Gittel's story of learning how to live with what happened when Devory died even though no one else seems to need to do so--or care to. It's a tale of Gittel bringing more openness and, maybe, someday, understanding to a very closed community.
Review: Hush is a truly gripping and heart wrenching book. It starts off a little slow, but all of the beginning storyline ends up being important later on because it connects the reader with the characters and leads to more understanding of the world in which they live (and how it's different from average US culture) which matters.
Part of why it was slower reading for me was there was a lot of terminology about the Chassidic lifestyle and in the ARC the glossary was 'to come' so I couldn't really look things up (without the internet). Since I believe that is in the print book (I haven't been able to see one to check), I think it will be faster reading for everyone else.
It's made known on page one that Devory is dead--and on the back of the book that she's being abused by a family member. Neither of those things makes reading about her any easier. Sometimes knowing (to an extent) what's to come makes reading about someone's pain less, well, painful, but that wasn't true in this case. Reading about the hurt Devory was experiencing, the true agony you could sometimes tell she must have been in--and at such a tender age--while no one seemed to notice or know enough to do anything, actually caused me some pain. I wanted to be able to do something for her.
Some of the other reviews, on Amazon and blogs, have said more about what happens to Devory, but I'm glad I didn't read them (not that I'm even sure they were up when I read Hush) because I feel it would have taken something away from the real, raw emotion that Hush can evoke in its reader.
A book that looks at abuse and its aftermath both on the victim and those around her (or him) is not necessarily new, but because Hush is set in the Chassidic community and written by someone raised there, it takes on a whole new element. If you don't have a word for something, can that thought, that deed, still exist? And if it can, how do you handle something so ugly happening when all that you are is designed to be pure?
The community doesn't talk about abuse--that it happens or could happen or anything, really. Denial and making it go away is how things are done. Until that's no longer an option. (And this is when the early part of the book involving the community, the rules, the structure, the history really is important.)
The actions and reactions of the characters as their forced to confront something they never even dreamed of having to deal with really adds a lot to the relationships between the characters. Seeing how they interact and deal with each other when they're living a life that instead of being ordered and constructed is shaken, unwound, and no longer governed by the rules they know so well, was really magnificent to read. Not to quote the Real World, but they kind of did stop being polite and started being real and it was written so well.
I don't (and can't) know how much of this is the author drawing on personal experience (in the back she notes that through a friend and acquaintance she experience both the happenings that are major in the book--not to her, but to them). Whether it's autobiographical, fictional or a fusion, the interactions the characters have as they struggle with what abuse and acknowledging that abuse would mean to their faith, is really gripping.
It's hard to call a book on such a painful storyline beautiful, but Hush really is.
It's hard for me to review it without telling you everything that happens (you could read the Amazon synopsis or I think most other reviews--they're giving away more than I'm choosing to) but I think books are more enjoyable when I hold back certain things.
I don't know if Eishes Chayil will publish anything else, but I can safely say I would not at all be disappointed if she chose to, she has a beautiful writing style and really captures a wide array of characters very well. The Chassidic Jewish community was almost completely foreign to me but the characters & their thinking didn't feel entirely that way. Rather than mock the Chasidim, Hush and Chayil explained--not everything was positive, no, but it was honest.
I do hope you'll give this book a read because it really is a story that came from deep within someone, a story that was told because it needed to be told. At times painful, at times funny and at times sweet, this glorious book is one I loved if you couldn't tell already. (And I recommend it for young adult readers and adult readers both.)
Contest: And I'm making it very easy for you to give it a read, too: Thanks to lovely Bloomsbury, I have a copy to give away . . .
Open to US mailing addresses only (no PO Boxes, sorry)
+2 entries for old followers of my blog; +1 for new (needs to be 'Google Connect' so I can see)
+1 for adding it to your blog/twitter/facebook (each place, up to +3 total)
Ends September 30, 11: 59 Eastern
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thank you very muchly to Bloomsbury for this book