Almost-12-year-old Raizel accompanies her father on an arduous journey of immigration from Russia to America — twice. Rejected at Ellis Island, the pair return to their embarkation point of Antwerp, where kindly Jewish fellow passengers help them plan a more successful second attempt. The story is based on the misadventures of the author’s own grandfather. The story is well-written, smooth and absorbing, with characters who are alive, sympathetic and believable. Raizel’s frequent storytelling adds interest and helps to move the tale along. The feminist overtones, which have become common in recent historical novels, are present but are not overdone. Philosophical questions are raised for characters and readers to ponder, such as whether it is the inside self or outward practices that make a person Jewish. The story is by turns thoughtful and adventurous and this skillful pacing distinguishes it from many immigration stories. The themes of hardship, adaptation, and courage are universal to any immigrant experience, and the book will be enjoyed by Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike. Highly recommended for ages 10 – 13.
Heidi Estrin is librarian for the Feldman Children’s Library at Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, FL. She is a past chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee for the Association of Jewish Libraries.