Sumach Press  2011

Being 16 in sleepy, suburban Connecticut proves difficult for Zoe Diamond; it’s 1973 and while her peers are experimenting with sex and drugs, Zoe finds herself incredibly bored and feels there must be a greater purpose to her life. Her parents seem to be fighting about the same things all the time and her father is more concerned with grading papers for the history classes he teaches at the other high school across town than his two daughters, while her mom enthusiastically engages in her consciousness raising group and doesn’t have time for family responsibilities like cooking and cleaning. Zoe often escapes to her Grandmother Esther, who lives in Greenwich Village and is empathetic of the difficulties of being a teenager. Esther tries to open Zoe’s eyes to worldly issues such as the state of Israel and being in love, sharing stories of how she met Zoe’s grandfather. Zoe’s parents try in their own way to instill a Jewish identity in their daughters by observing the High Holidays, making time for a Hanukkah dinner of latkes, and sending Zoe to Hebrew high school after school. At the temple, Zoe comes in contact with a young Israeli teacher, Rivka Lev, who disapproves of Zoe and her two friends, Danielle and Naomi, who treat life as an endless party and laugh at Rivka’s emotionally spun stories about wartime in Israel. Zoe, engrossed in the book Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary, is strongly drawn to Rivka , who echoes many of the same qualities of this tragic heroine and provokes Zoe to challenge herself, by making positive choices instead of spiraling downward under her friends’ influence of marijuana and alcohol. Finding comfort in her friendship with Rivka, Zoe confides in her concern about her best friend, Naomi, who appears to be very depressed and contemplating suicide, and slowly turning into a stranger as she spends more time with her boyfriend Tad. This multi-layered coming of age story strongly portrays universal issues of growing up and the difficult choices that teens of all cultures make as they explore their sexual orientation and grapple with peer pressure. Author Leora Freedman earnestly addresses these issues and does not shy away from the truth, as bitter as it can be. Coupled with the title Stop Pretending, What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones, this would be a great catalyst for an eye opening book discussion. Ages 14 and up.

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