CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 3. . . .September 26, 2008
Fifteen-year-old Ellie Gold, daughter of orthodox Jews, can't wait to escape 1987 Toronto's stifling summer heat for the quiet stillness of a lake-front cabin rented by her beloved grandmother, easy-going, pragmatic Bubbie. Into her focus on nature and learning to swim properly whirls Lindsay, unsupervised, daring and beautiful. Ellie's desire for Lindsay horrifies her but, moth-like, she can't resist Lindsay's flame. Back in the city, Ellie's inner thoughts overlap the rhythm of orthodox Jewish life. She immerses herself in prayer, chants and even memorizes the periodic table to ban the memory of Lindsay, but desire seeps into her soul as she tries to reconcile her faith and her sexuality.
In the year that follows, Ellie realizes that the delicious Lindsay cannot be faithful and that life will go on even if she is a lesbian. Ellie watches as her older sister Neshama gradually sheds their parents' ultra conservatism and makes plans to begin a business degree on the west coast. Ellie's parents struggle with the roles of men and women in orthodox Judaism but finally find a shul with which they can both be comfortable. Bubbie works quietly in the background to provide her granddaughters relief from their father's rigid approach to religion.
Ellie is a memorable protagonist. Her desire for a science education spills out in everything she does, and like many mid-teenage girls, she gains comfort and peace through religious observance. Initially, when she accepts her sexual orientation and realizes that she has to part from fickle Lindsay, Ellie rejects her faith, but the singing and prayers of her mother's new shul centre her again. As she slips out to wrap Xmas presents at a mall and rages against ancient religious rules and the oppression of women, disobedient Neshama provides an effective foil for Ellie. Their Bubbie is the perfect grandmother: a woman who scoffs at pretension and offers unconditional love and support. Even Ellie's parents are portrayed with a gentle touch - the father who sincerely hopes that traditional religion will be the focus of everyone's lives and the mother who is truly searching for an ecstatic connection with God. The reader is immersed in the life of this ordinary family whose religion is woven into the fabric of their very being, and yet the details of this life are merely observed, never told.
Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.