• Review
By – December 31, 2022

Set in 1979, the year of the Iran Hostage Cri­sis, Just a Hat fol­lows twelve-year-old Joseph Nis­san and his Per­sian Jew­ish fam­i­ly, who fled Iran and set­tled in small-town Texas. The neigh­bors are unfa­mil­iar with Jew­ish fam­i­lies, and even more so with Per­sian Jews and their cus­toms, atti­tudes, and appear­ance. Most of Joseph’s class­mates assume he is His­pan­ic and mis­treat him, call­ing him racist names. Joseph’s feel­ings for the daugh­ter of a fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­t­ian preach­er com­pli­cate his already com­plex life.

His par­ents have deep, dark secrets of their own that they are unwill­ing to divulge. They even­tu­al­ly share some of their fears with him, and he begins to under­stand the com­plex­i­ties of Mid­dle East­ern life, espe­cial­ly for Jews, as well as why his par­ents are so fear­ful for his safe­ty. Over time, Joseph learns to be con­fi­dent about who he is and what he stands for.

Just a Hat presents a piece of his­to­ry to read­ers who may be unfa­mil­iar with this time and place. The book is full of Jew­ish con­tent — includ­ing a bar mitz­vah, Yom Kip­pur, and Shab­bat — and humor. There is much to learn from and enjoy about this sim­ply pre­sent­ed yet com­plex sto­ry of a boy who grows into a fine man in a com­pli­cat­ed society.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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