Strange Rela­tions

Sonia Lev­itin
  • Review
By – November 14, 2011
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.

Discussion Questions