On Black­ber­ry Hill

  • Review
By – December 22, 2016

Against the back­drop of Jew­ish sum­mer camp, On Black­ber­ry Hill depicts two nar­ra­tives; the chap­ters alter­nate between four­teen-year-old Reena in the present day and her late moth­er Nao­mi twen­ty-years ago. Though Reena’s sto­ry is more fleshed-out, Naomi’s chap­ters pro­vides nec­es­sary insight to their fam­i­ly story.

When her musi­cian father goes on tour in Japan, Reena is forced to join her stand­off­ish cousin Lila at Camp Tova, a Jew­ish sleep-away camp. Cha­grined to be away from her New York City home, Reena has trou­ble adjust­ing to camp and her fel­low bunk­mates. How­ev­er, she is intrigued by the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn more about her moth­er, who died when she was a baby, in the place her par­ents met two decades prior.

Twen­ty sum­mers ear­li­er, col­lege stu­dent Nao­mi is a reluc­tant coun­selor at Camp Tova. For­bid­den by her strict par­ents from spend­ing the sum­mer in New York City, Nao­mi is focused on the future and torn between her par­ents’ expec­ta­tions and per­son­al inde­pen­dence, espe­cial­ly in com­par­i­son with her more tra­di­tion­al sis­ter, Mara.

Despite a rough start, Reena finds her place as a camper (and even makes friends) and even­tu­al­ly dis­cov­ers the sto­ries behind her fam­i­ly his­to­ry. She learns that the rea­sons for the ten­sion between her father and her moth­ers’ fam­i­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly with her Aunt Mara, are not what she always assumed.

Mann clear­ly put a lot of effort into includ­ing var­i­ous Juda­ic aspects into the sto­ry and suf­fi­cient­ly incor­po­rates many Jew­ish ele­ments includ­ing sev­er­al men­tions of reli­gious prayers, tra­di­tions and Hebrew and Yid­dish words. On Black­ber­ry Hill depicts the val­ue of mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional famil­ial bonds and the jour­ney towards self-dis­cov­ery which teens (espe­cial­ly those famil­iar with the often insu­lar Jew­ish sleep-away camp cul­ture) will enjoy reading.

The tar­get age range for this nov­el is not clear. Although Reena is 14, Naomi’s chap­ters includes a few mature the­mat­ic ele­ments. As kids tend to read up” age-wise, some of the con­tent may not be appro­pri­ate for pre-teen readers.

Jil­lian Bietz stud­ied library tech­nol­o­gy and research skills and cur­rent­ly works in the library sys­tem. She is a book review­er for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and Kirkus Review Indie. Jil­lian lives in South­ern California.

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