It’s six years in the future and a two-state solution has come to Israel. However, the border doesn’t separate Israelis and Palestinians. Rather, it’s a physical boundary between religious and secular Jews, whose differences have grown so great that they can no longer share a homeland.
As foreign students, non-religious Eve and her fiancé Manny have coveted passes to live in Jerusalem in the Orthodox State of Israel. The environment influences Manny, who reveals that he wants to become religious, to be a rabbi. Eve and Manny share fewer and fewer values. They fight. Their impending marriage looks doomed. In Manny’s choice, Green cleverly condenses the struggles of a state and a people into an apartment and a relationship.
Just as Eve is about to move on, she’s visited by the soul of her unborn child, an elusive pale being with shockingly blue eyes. Named Ben, he begs Eve to reconsider. Ben explains that from the world beyond, he has chosen Eve and Manny to be his parents. If they separate, he loses his chance.
The visit haunts Eve and she bends her life to give life to Ben’s soul, which comes in the form of a son named Netsach, a beautiful child and a gifted athlete who becomes known as the king of the class. But being chosen doesn’t make life easy, as Jews everywhere know. In the second half of the book, which becomes a page-turning thriller, Netsach suffers dearly for his gifts.
Weaving together supernatural with politics, science fiction with social critique, religious commentary with a love story, and wrapping it all up in a nail-biting intrigue is ambitious and genre-bending, though at times it does make the reading unsteady. Still, Green has written a wonderfully strange, complex, and thought-provoking novel. Unlike Netsach, The King of the Class largely succeeds for its gifts.