Con­fes­sions of a Clos­et Catholic

  • Review
By – August 3, 2012
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​.ajl​jew​ish​val​ues​.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).

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