If Sonia Levitin hadn’t been born to write, she might well have considered becoming a tightrope walker. She has always taken risks, balancing stories of pleasurable appeal with deeper messages reflecting commitment to truth and personal growth. In this book for teens, she successfully navigates a narrow path, taking on issues of tradition and conflicting values, introducing readers to a richly textured culture while giving them a heroine to whom they can truly relate. For five years, Marne, 15, watched her secular Jewish parents retreat into work loss. Given a chance to spend her summer with her mother’s “odd” sister Carole in Hawaii, she envisions Paradise: long days on the beach, cute surfers, and even more fun when her friend Kim’s hedonistic family flies in for a condo vacation nearby. However, immediately on arrival she discovers that Carole, now Aunt Chaya — wife of a Hasidic rabbi, and mother of seven — is an energetic, complex woman who takes great joy in her usefulness, her family, and her community. Plunged into a chaotic but lively household, with little chance to laze around, Marne is confronted with challenges, annoyances, temptations, responsibilities and, ultimately, insights into her own nature. After Kim arrives, Marne sees her and her family through new eyes. Characters, plot and opposing lifestyles are well depicted against the exotic background of Oahu. Levitin has dexterously pulled together her recurrent themes of loss, courage, love, struggle against mindless conformity and the difficult search for personal integrity in a modern world, wrapping them in a novel that’s contemporary, sensitive and believable. Ages 12 and up.
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.