It’s almost summer. Nearly-fourteen-year-old Sarassine plans to practice her role in Twelfth Night with her best friend, Charlus, who is transitioning to being female and asks to be called Jackie. Sarassine’s plans change when the cleaner at her parents’ rich LA home points to a loose tile. Soon it turns out the whole house has to be dismantled by a screaming Israeli plumber, but her parents are nowhere to be found. If that weren’t enough, Sarassine’s angry grandmother shows up, blaming her in a heavy Floridian accent for everything and threatening to send her to a “Jewish Wild Child Wilderness Camp.” Sarassine and Jackie’s escape plan fails horribly.
Hammer uses framed notes instead of footnotes. This is a great way to grab young readers’ attention to terms such as Shabbat, Bat and Bar Mitzvah, or to rebuke Holocaust deniers. More so, as they are written in Sarassine’s voice, they become an organic part of the book.
Once Sarassine embarks on her forced journey, it becomes a wonderful adventure of self-discovery. Equipped with Jackie’s old boy clothes, she becomes Sam, gets to explore life as a non-binary person, and to meet people s/he never met in her previous, protected life. From this point on, Pretend Plumber is about rethinking points of view. It turns into a racy satire that makes the readers laugh, have fun but also consider conventions about gender, age, political view and everything else in life.
This book is about being open-minded, open-hearted, and not being afraid of one’s emotions. At a certain point Sam thinks: “I’m some kind of something pretending to be a boy, when I’m not even exactly a girl, and I can’t make anything and I can only fix things for short term not for long term, and what the hell good is that?” This is just one example of the emotions that come up in the book, and they will change too, because Sarassine/Sam changes, and it happens fast. It’s an age of changes, and s/he accepts those changes with humor, curiosity and sometimes fear. After all, they are part of the journey.
Dana G. Peleg is a Hebrew/English author, poet and translator. She received the 2018 Andresen Certificate of Honor for her translation of Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit. Her original works and translations appeared in Israeli publications, as well as the Porter Gulch Review and Asymptote.