CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 22. . . .February 8, 2013
Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2013.
227 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0109-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0110-3 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0111-0 (epub).
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
"Why would anyone want to belong to a religion that was all about loss, grief and persecution? If I wanted misery, I could watch the evening news. Why couldn't I be part of a religion that focused on peace instead? Or at the very least, why couldn't Jewish holidays be like Easter and Christmas? Fluffy bunnies and Santa Claus, not death and persecution?
I looked at the sky. Dark clouds were moving quickly. I didn't want to be Jewish anymore. I didn't want to be part of a persecuted people.
That's when I decided not to be. It wasn't like my family kept many of the laws or traditions anyway. I would go to public school, change my name from Yanofsky to something like Richards or Smith and stop being oppressed by the Jewish holidays. It could be so easy. I could get my hair chemically straightened and get a nose job. No, wait – a nose job was as typically Jewish as Dad saying, Oy. I'd stick with my own nose.
I didn't want to belong to another religion, I just didn't want to be Jewish anymore. I didn't know a word for becoming un-Jewish, so I made up a list: de-convert, de-judify, de-Jew, de-religicize, de-belief, de-brief. I guess you could also say naturalize or normalize.
I tried to imagine a ritual for becoming un-Jewish. I could burn my bat mitzvah certificate, destroy Mom's collection of Yaffa Yarconi CDs, purge my parents' library of books about Jewish record holders, Jewish contributions to the Atomic Bomb, Yiddish jokes.
I never did any of those things. Instead, I refused to go to temple and Hebrew high school and Jewish youth group. When Mom threatened to cut off my allowance and Internet access if I didn't go to Hebrew high school or youth group, I said "Fine" and started babysitting more and going online at Brooke's house. They finally relented when I went on a hunger strike.
And yet, even after I had started grade eight at public high school, I couldn't help thinking about Grandma Rose when I lay in bed at night, about her family being shot because they were Jewish. I remembered Grandma Rose crying on that stone, Dad trying to lift her up, the two of them locked in that hug. I wanted to forget I'd ever seen them. Six million dead Jews was a number too big to be meaningful, but the murder of eleven of Grandma Rose's family – my family – was like a fire ripping through my lungs."
Lauren Yanofsky is just beginning grade 11 as the novel opens. Her friends, Em and Chloe, are excited about performing in the school's musical this year, and best friend, Brooke, comes over after school to play basketball in Lauren's driveway. All of the girls check out how the guys have changed over the summer and are overjoyed to find out that handsome Jesse, sent to a private school for a year, is back in class. Life in grade 11 looks like it will be amazing, and that's just when everything starts to fall apart.
The backbone of the story is the fact that Lauren is Jewish and has a love-hate relationship with her religion. She has declared herself a non-Jew, although her parents don't know about this decision. Despite her best efforts, the fact of being Jewish follows Lauren everywhere, and the events of the Holocaust continually haunt both her dreams and her waking hours. Her dad's academic position as a Holocaust historian doesn't help. Lauren has to confront her deepest feelings when she is at the park and some of the boys in her class are playing Nazi war games. Does she betray her friends and report their hate-filled behaviour to the school authorities? Or does she ignore how much it affects her and pretend that her Jewish heritage really isn't so important to her after all?
Lauren's fight with her conscience is a major theme of the novel. Her parents try to push both Lauren and her younger brother, Zach, into Jewish activities. Some of Lauren's friends invite her to a Christian Bible study group. And then there is the issue of the Nazi war games and how unrepentant the boys seem to be. Laruen is faced with tough choices and by the end of the novel is more mature because of the decisions she must make. Lieberman, in this third young adult novel, has her main character confront not only serious decisions regarding her religious beliefs but also what she stands for when it comes to her friendships, partying, drinking, and love. And then there's the problem which sometimes seems just as critical: what to do on those damp days in Vancouver when your hair is nothing but frizz! Lauren has to confront them all.
The secondary characters who make up Lauren's friends are an interesting group, and Lieberman describes a virtual microcosm of high school society. There are the drama queens, the Smokers, the jocks and the inevitable stresses among them. Lauren also thinks that her friendship with Jesse is deepening quickly into something like love until he takes part in the Nazi war games. Can she ever forgive his thoughtlessness and help him understand how much he has hurt her? The other secondary characters are Lauren's family, and here, too, Lieberman presents her young adult readers with parents who don't quite relate to their rebellious daughter or their autistic son who requires communication skills and understanding which are, at times, beyond his parents' ability to cope.
Much of the teen drama and action of the plot is predictable, although told with a sense of humour which helps move the plot along. The Nazi war games juxtaposed with Lauren's Jewish background and the way she must come to terms with the problem and her emotions are thought-provoking themes which allow Lauren to develop throughout the book. Her maturing process literally goes through a 'trial by fire,' and a different Lauren emerges in the final pages of the novel.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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