The Life and Crimes of Hood­ie Rosen

  • Review
By – November 28, 2022

When a book by a new author defies expec­ta­tions, it not only engages read­ers, but it also forces them to exam­ine their own assump­tions. The Life and Crimes of Hood­ie Rosen is one such book, push­ing against stereo­types and the con­ven­tions of the young adult genre.

A yeshi­va stu­dent who has recent­ly moved to a new town is lovestruck by Anna-Marie Díaz‑O’Leary, a bold and grace­ful non-Jew­ish girl. Isaac Blum’s deft mix­ture of caus­tic cri­tique and deep affec­tion for the Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ty cul­mi­nates with an unfor­get­table char­ac­ter who wry­ly ana­lyzes obsta­cles even as he dodges them — and whose unlike­ly opti­mism about rec­on­cil­ing oppo­sites allows him to tran­scend limits.

Of one of his favorite ways to inter­act with peo­ple, Hood­ie observes, Sar­casm is a ver­sa­tile tool, like one of those knives that’s also a screw­driv­er.” How­ev­er, he acknowl­edges that there are rules for using this mul­ti­pur­pose instru­ment — a dis­tinc­tion that reflects Hoodie’s con­stant intro­spec­tion as he nego­ti­ates chal­lenges. Soon, a chance meet­ing with Anna-Marie presents new prob­lems, and he finds him­self break­ing more rules than ever before.

In his ambiva­lent rela­tion­ship with his father, his unique bond with old­er sis­ter, and his dai­ly frus­tra­tions with Tal­mud study, Hood­ie choos­es how much truth to reveal with­out irrepara­bly dam­ag­ing his con­nec­tions. Mean­while, the dis­turb­ing lev­el of anti­semitism in his new com­mu­ni­ty frames all of his per­son­al grap­plings in a fright­en­ing way.

Like many who are unfa­mil­iar with Hoodie’s world, Anna-Marie is con­fused by its para­dox­es. How can a school have such strict reli­gious rules yet allow boys to leave in the mid­dle of the day, so long as they do not miss prayer? But just as the pair’s dif­fer­ences do not alien­ate them from one anoth­er, famil­iar­i­ty is not a pre­req­ui­site to enjoy­ing the nov­el. One of Blum’s most notable achieve­ments is his abil­i­ty to cre­ate an acces­si­ble world with­out trans­lat­ing its pecu­liar­i­ties. He refers to the Shulchan Aruch, the Jew­ish legal code, with­out defin­ing it, and he explains the dif­fer­ences between two types of sin, chet and pesha, through con­text alone. In oth­er words, Blum’s vir­tu­al­ly invis­i­ble inter­ven­tion in the nar­ra­tive suc­ceeds in cre­at­ing a nov­el­is­tic world that is open to everyone.

In a com­mu­ni­ty reck­on­ing with tra­di­tion and change, Hood­ie is acute­ly aware of his sta­tus as a square peg in a round hole. Yet he grad­u­al­ly learns that if a peg is square, you get one of those lathe machines and you round the thing.”

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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