The World Outside

  • Review
By – May 22, 2014

Sev­en­teen-year-old Chanie Alt­man, a Hasidic Jew­ish girl, has grown up in the tight-knit com­mu­ni­ty of the Lubav­itch­ers in Crown Heights of the 1990s and has had her life me­ticulously out­lined for her. She is expect­ed to dress mod­est­ly, to be obe­di­ent to her par­ents and the Rebbe, their spir­i­tu­al leader, and to mar­ry some­one of her back­ground as soon as she fin­ish­es high school. Besides fol­low­ing the strict rules of her faith, Chanie assists her moth­er in tak­ing care of her hand­i­capped twin broth­er Moishe who was deprived of oxy­gen at birth and needs to be fed, bathed, and mon­itored on a dai­ly basis. Chanie day­dreams of a dif­fer­ent life and her only escape is singing; she has been blessed with a beau­ti­ful voice and imag­ines what it might like to become an opera star! When Chanie goes with her friend Devo­rah Leah to the mall on a mis­sion to pass out Shab­bos can­dle­sticks, she is intro­duced to a young man David Gold­berg. There is an instant attrac­tion between the two and David is deter­mined to become part of Chanie’s life, no mat­ter the con­se­quences. David opens her eyes to oppor­tu­ni­ties in the sec­u­lar world such as going to col­lege and con­vinces her to apply to Juil­liard. As they con­tin­ue to secret­ly meet in the park on Sun­days, Chanie’s con­fi­dence grows and she reach­es out to her African-Amer­i­can neigh­bor, Jude, an act of defi­ance that her moth­er finds unaccept­able. There is an under­ly­ing racial ten­sion in the neigh­bor­hood and a series of fright­en­ing raids begin to occur. Chanie’s grand­moth­er, a Holo­caust sur­vivor, has flash­backs of her time in Auschwitz, and gets caught in the cross­fire as she escapes into the volatile crowds. The loss of her Baba” and the lack of sta­bil­i­ty around her is too much for Chanie to bear and awak­ens her to the real­iza­tion that being part of the Hasidic world, not the world out­side, is where she wants to live her life. 

Award-win­ning author, Eva Wise­man, does an excel­lent job of cre­at­ing a provoca­tive, stark view of the Hasidic way of life. The pro­tagonist is a sen­si­tive, mem­o­rable char­ac­ter with a sense of curios­i­ty to whom teens can relate as she is tempt­ed by the unknown and has desires and unfilled dreams. While some read­ers may be dis­ap­point­ed by her final deci­sion, which is a dif­fi­cult one, her inter­nal tur­moil is skill­ful­ly con­veyed and the end rings true. The text often is fla­vored with some Yid­dish expres­sions and unfa­mil­iar ter­mi­nol­o­gy; a com­plete glos­sary is pro­vid­ed at the end of the sto­ry. The book is help­ful in devel­op­ing sen­si­tiv­i­ty to diver­si­ty and can be con­trast­ed to Bar­ry Deutsch’s Here­ville: How Mir­ka Got Her Sword (2012).

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 12 and up.

Debra Gold has been a children’s librar­i­an for over 20 years in the Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Pub­lic Library Sys­tem. An active mem­ber of the ALA, she has served on many com­mit­tees includ­ing the Calde­cott, New­bery and Batchelder committees.

Discussion Questions