Eleven-year-old Justine is a middle child who gets no respect. She also feels that she gets no love, except from her ailing Bubbe. Her best friend, Mary Catherine McAllister, comes from a big, raucous Catholic family and compared with her own — with so much Jewish and social angst — it seems a lot more attractive. So Jussy becomes a closet Catholic. Literally. In her closet, she keeps a cross and a rosary, some matza and grape juice for Communion, and her confessor, Father Ted, an old teddy bear. When Bubbe, who is observant, comes to live with the family after she has a stroke, Jussy grows even more religiously confused. Her other grandparents and her mother and father are Jewish, but not “too Jewish.” They are appalled, however, when they discover Jussy’s closet secrets. She, in turn, goes to confession to pour out all of her sins — greed and gluttony for chocolate, lust for one of the McAllister boys, envy of her perfect older sister.… Before she can go too far, the Jewishly-hip priest gently suggests that she speak with a rabbi and try to understand God not as an enforcer of rules but as a kindly guide. Bubbe’s death precipitates some changes in Jussy’s family that do a lot to improve her self-esteem, and a Jewish outreach group becomes the right place for her to explore Jewish practice and belief. The author’s light, humorous, and colloquial style keeps all of this from becoming too heavy, and her characterization is first rate across the board, from minor characters to Jussy herself, who appeals both as an awkward, self-doubting adolescent and a young Jew who wants to take Judaism seriously. The portrayal of an upwardly mobile but socially insecure family, with Jussy in the middle, will strike a familiar chord with many adolescent readers, updating another good novel about Jewish identity and observance entitled What Happened to Heather Hopkowitz? by Charlotte Herman (Jewish Publication Society, 1981). For ages 10 – 13.
Linda R. Silver is a specialist in Jewish children’s literature. She is editor of the Association of Jewish Libraries’ Jewish Valuesfinder, www.ajljewishvalues.org, and author of Best Jewish Books for Children and Teens: A JPS Guide (The Jewish Publication Society, 2010) and The Jewish Values Finder: A Guide to Values in Jewish Children’s Literature (Neal-Schuman, 2008).