Her Moth­er’s Secret

Bar­bara Gar­land Polikoff

  • Review
By – May 29, 2013

Sarah Gold­man is a fif­teen-year-old Jew­ish girl liv­ing in a cramped apart­ment behind her father’s butch­er shop in 1892. Sarah’s world opens up when she starts tak­ing art class­es at Chicago’s Hull House, vol­un­teers for Jane Addams, and vis­its the World’s Columbian Expo­si­tion. Short chap­ters, some only a sin­gle page, are divid­ed into even short­er sec­tions pro­duc­ing a chop­py nar­ra­tive that oft en los­es momen­tum and flu­id­i­ty. The tod­dler Sarah babysits falls to his death from the roof of the apart­ment build­ing and one of her class­mates is acci­den­tal­ly stabbed to death at his own birth­day par­ty in front of her eyes. Despite these extreme­ly trau­mat­ic events, the book lacks dra­ma. While the title sug­gests the main thrust of the book, Polikoff fails to cre­ate any real ten­sion or sus­pense around Sarah’s mother’s secret, and the rev­e­la­tion ends up being rather anti ‑cli­mat­ic. In the end, read­ers know and under­stand the family’s secret but too many oth­er loose ends and dis­con­nects makes this an unsat­is­fy­ing read. Jane Addams, the Hull House, the World’s Fair, the art of Mary Cas­satt, and Chica­go in the 1890s are all intro­duced with inter­est­ing his­tor­i­cal details, how­ev­er, the book will have dif­fi­cul­ty find­ing an audi­ence even among fans of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 – 13.

Rachel Kamin has been a syn­a­gogue librar­i­an and Jew­ish edu­ca­tor for over twen­ty-five years and has worked at North Sub­ur­ban Syn­a­gogue Beth El in High­land Park, IL since 2008, cur­rent­ly serv­ing as the Direc­tor of Life­long Learn­ing. A past chair of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award Com­mit­tee and past edi­tor of Book Reviews for Chil­dren & Teens for the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries News & Reviews, her arti­cles and book reviews appear in numer­ous pub­li­ca­tions. She has been a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Library Association’s Sophie Brody Book Award Com­mit­tee since 2021.

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