Play­ing Dad’s Song

D. Dina Friedman
  • Review
By – December 19, 2011

At eleven, Gus Moskowitz has more on his mind than he can han­dle. It’s been two years since his singer/​actor/​waiter father trad­ed shifts with a friend and died in the World Trade cen­ter bomb­ing. Though his par­ents were divorced, his dad stayed close and Gus thinks of him and miss­es him all the time. Max, his best friend, moved away. The new class bul­ly, Ivan the Ter­ri­ble, won’t leave him alone. And now Liza, his tal­ent­ed and con­fi­dent old­er sis­ter, keeps nag­ging him to try out for a role in the school play. Nev­er mind that he gets too ner­vous to even do an oral report in class. Gus yearns to rein­vent him­self, to be good at something…anything. It’s no won­der his mom often finds him hid­ing in bed, using his child­hood blan­ket to shut out what feels like an over­whelm­ing world. 

Then, grad­u­al­ly, things start to change. Gus has avoid­ed music since his dad, who nev­er made it to Broad­way, died. But his moth­er once stud­ied to be an opera singer and his sis­ter is the lead in every school musi­cal, so it’s only log­i­cal that music should become the cat­a­lyst for Gus’ reen­gage­ment with life. With­out ask­ing his opin­ion, his wor­ried moth­er arranges for him to take free oboe lessons from Mr. M., her employer’s retired musi­cian father, a Holo­caust sur­vivor. As the weeks pass, Mr. M. wel­comes Gus’s com­pa­ny, dis­cov­er­ing in him a real gift for music and applaud­ing his tal­ent when he begins to com­pose melodies of his own. Mean­while, Gus, raised in a pure­ly sec­u­lar home, learns not just music but about Mr. M.’s Jew­ish roots, about the boy­hood trau­mas he had to over­come and about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of becom­ing a Bar Mitzvah. 

With­out melo­dra­ma or sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty, the sto­ry takes Gus out from hid­ing and back into the world. Open­ing him­self to oth­ers, he finds his own spe­cial way to hon­or his father’s life and move for­ward with his own. 

Rita Berman Frisch­er was direc­tor of Sinai Tem­ple Blu­men­thal Library for twen­ty years. She has served as a judge for chil­dren’s books awards, writ­ten chap­ters on chil­dren’s book for var­i­ous bib­li­o­graph­ic works and is a fre­quent review­er for Jew­ish peri­od­i­cals and newspapers.

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