A commanding debut and a poignant coming-of-age story, The Orchard is about a devout Jewish high school student whose plunge into the secularized world threatens everything he knows of himself. Ari Eden’s life has always been governed by strict rules. In ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn, his days are dedicated to intense study and religious rituals, and adolescence feels profoundly lonely. So, when his family announces that they are moving to a glitzy Miami suburb, Ari seizes his unexpected chance for reinvention. Enrolling in an opulent Jewish academy, Ari is stunned by his peers’ dizzying wealth, ambition, and shameless pursuit of life’s pleasures. When the academy’s golden boy, Noah, takes Ari under his wing, Ari finds himself entangled in the school’s most exclusive and wayward group. These friends are magnetic and defiant — especially Evan, the brooding genius of the bunch, still living in the shadow of his mother’s death. Influenced by their charismatic rabbi, the group begins testing their religion in unconventional ways. Soon, Ari and his friends are pushing moral boundaries and careening toward a perilous future — one in which the traditions of their faith are repurposed to mysterious, tragic ends. Mesmerizing and playful, heartrending and darkly romantic, The Orchard probes the conflicting forces that determine who we become: the heady relationships of youth, the allure of greatness, the doctrines we inherit, and our concealed desires.
At its core, The Orchard is a deeply satisfying philosophical mystery in both the corporeal and spiritual sense. Leaving behind the prescribed moral certainty of his Orthodox life in Brooklyn, the highly gifted Ari Eden is thrust into Zion Hills with its “own brand of religiosity” — a paradoxical combination of pool parties and davening. As Ari sheds his Brooklyn life in both a literal and metaphorical sense, he encounters a terrible secret that ultimately leads to an existential crisis. This dark coming-of-age story where the quest for truth and meaning can be both tragic and intoxicating is nearly impossible to put down. This brilliant, fast paced literary debut challenges us to ask: How much are we really supposed to know?
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