CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 4. . . .September 27, 2013
Thirteen-year-old Dahlia did not want to go to Camp Avra to spend three weeks in the sunshine with a bunch of Jewish kids and her older brother Tom who is a counsellor at the camp. She would much rather go to magic camp or math camp or, well, pretty much anything else. She knows she won’t fit in, and she has an aversion to the camp because she remembers – or thinks she remembers – being hit by lightning at the camp when visiting her brother years before.
However, when she arrives at the camp and sees two young girls “shimmer” through the side of her cabin, she begins to hope that maybe there is someone else who likes magic as much as she does. Instead, as her time at the camp continues, she realizes more is going on than what can be explained with a magician’s sleight of hand tricks. There are too many questions to be answered, and she knows she is stubborn enough to find the answers. Why is the weird and scary camp groundskeeper keeping everyone out of the maze? What happened to the little girls and what are they trying to tell her? And why is she having dreams about a Jewish man from seventy years ago?
Author Ari Goelman has developed a strong and independent heroine and a large and varied cast of secondary characters. Dahlia is smart, curious, and definitely likes to do things her own way. Many of the secondary characters are also developed with backstories and small side plots. For example, Ravi, the practical joker, has a crush on Dahlia and tells everyone they are going out. Like Dahlia, he also has an older brother at the camp whom he avoids whenever possible. Dahlia’s brother Tom still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend; another counsellor at the camp. Then there is David, the young rabbinical student who found the seventy-second name of God 70 years before and who is now possessing Dahlia to right a wrong that he was involved in that ultimately caused his own death.
In short, the plot is convoluted and, like a maze, uses misdirection and has a lot of dead ends. The reader begins the novel by following Dahlia in the present day trying to understand the mystery of the two ghosts. Then without much warning, the plot jumps seventy years in the past and follows David’s consequences when he unwittingly discovered the seventy-second name of God and his subsequent efforts to keep the power away from an evil group called the Illuminated Ones. As The Path of Names progresses, the two plots take turns with the narration until they merge.
Goelman’s inclusion of Jewish mysticism and Gemetria adds a new and refreshing element to this camp mystery. A large number of students, however, will have no background in these concepts; they will be completely unknown. As a result, the emphasis on these elements may confuse some readers and make the novel inaccessible to others. Goelman has created a tough maze for himself as an author; how to explain concepts that are difficult for even some adults to understand without bogging down his plot with too much detail.
To sum up, in The Path of Names Goelman has created an original mystery with a strong female protagonist and interesting plot elements. Alternating between Dahlia’s voice and David’s voice provides additional interest to the tale while helping carry the plot forward. However, Goelman does not stop there. He overcomplicates the plot by providing clues while writing in other secondary character’s point of view. He introduces complicated concepts that are necessary for the resolution of the plot but does not take the time to ensure his reader understands. He muddies the plot with too many details about who is dating who and why Ravi is trying to shed an unwanted nickname. The complexity actually does work in the mystery genre where the author must provide red herrings while hiding the needed clues in plain sight to ensure the outcome is believable.
My reservation, however, is that the plot is too convoluted for the 10-12 year old audience for which it was intended. Sophisticated reads are needed in a library, but I am concerned that . Goelman may have limited his audience more than was really necessary by complicating an already complex tale. After all, if a maze it too tough, some might not even try for fear of getting lost.
Recommended with reservations.
Jonine Bergen is a librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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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.