The Won­der Spot

Melis­sa Bank
  • Review
By – July 26, 2012

Melis­sa Bank hits the won­der spot with the sto­ry of Sophie Apple­baum, who wan­ders through life with charm and a quirky, uncer­tain style. It isn’t hard to iden­ti­fy with plucky, vul­ner­a­ble, sen­si­tive Sophie. She gets up when she falls even while know­ing she will stum­ble again. A cast of char­ac­ters com­plex enough to be inter­est­ing pop­u­late her world; no pat good guys and bad guys here. Each mem­ber of her lov­ing fam­i­ly has the weak­ness­es and fail­ings that lov­ing fam­i­ly mem­bers are like­ly to have. They care about her, but do they always say and do the right thing at the right time? Of course not. Whose fam­i­ly does? Her col­leagues at a series of jobs are mem­o­rable, too. There’s the boy won­der” edi­to­r­i­al assis­tant who was the kind of man who might’ve fished Zel­da Fitzger­ald out of the foun­tain at the Plaza, draped his cash­mere coat around her shoul­ders, nev­er asked for it back, and nev­er told any­one the sto­ry.” There’s the float­ing assis­tant” ridiculed by the staff who achieves suc­cess by, gasp, old-fash­ioned hard work. There’s the child­hood friend who doesn’t quite tran­si­tion into a friend for life and a col­lege room­mate who pro­vides Sophie with a tan­ta­liz­ing glimpse of anoth­er world. And, of course, there is a long and var­ied parade of men who suc­ces­sive­ly dance through Sophie’s days and nights. None of them turns out to be the dreamt-of Mr. Right but each fas­ci­nates enough to pro­vide the what if of hope, which some­how springs prover­bial­ly eternal. 

Bank’s lan­guage trips seam­less­ly along and her descrip­tions are wit­ty and tar­get­ed. One char­ac­ter is described as speak­ing in the non­est of non-sequiturs.” The Jew­ish sen­si­bil­i­ty rings true, as well. There’s an excru­ci­at­ing bat mitz­vah, seen through the eyes of 12-year-old Sophie, that makes the read­er pos­i­tive­ly squirm, as well as an awk­ward kosher kitchen scene of the sort that hap­pens in real life all too often. The under­ly­ing Jew­ish cul­tur­al con­text, while not dri­ving the sto­ry, anchors it well to its time and place. 

Melis­sa Bank is often referred to as a founder of chick-lit.” Her newest nov­el qual­i­fies but, due to like­able char­ac­ters, an effer­ves­cent writ­ing style and a humor­ous approach, it’s one of the best exam­ples of the genre in a long while.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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