Sunday, February 08, 2009
by Stephanie Silberstein
(Narrow Path Publishing / 0-981-64590-9 / 978-0-981-64590-2 / June 2008 / 130 pages / $12.50)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM
On the first day of Chanukah, first grader Emily Horowitz arrives home with a note from her teacher pinned to her coat, complaining that Emily refused to sing Christmas songs with the rest of the class. She needs to get it signed, but her parents don’t have time to look at it. Her baby brother has just been diagnosed with autism, and the family is reeling with the repercussions.
In this slim novel, author Stephanie Silberstein explores the issues faced by one small child who happens to be the only Jewish student in her school. If a menorah is displayed alongside the Christmas tree, does that justify the demand that Jewish children sing Christian songs? If a Jewish child is visiting a Christian household, should she be forced into helping decorate the Christmas tree, because “ornaments don’t bite”? Harassed by an anti-Semitic principal and ignored by parents distraught about their other child, six-year-old Emily is confused and alone with her dilemma.
Ms. Silberstein’s theme is poignant and personal. I believe that she has experienced the prejudice that Emily faces in this novel. However I wish that she had chosen an older narrator who could have brought more depth to this story. Six-year-old Emily is too young to understand autism or her Jewish faith, and her parents are extremely uncommunicative. As a reader, I could not empathize with the parents’ plight and anguish; I was too taken aback by the way they criticize Emily, talk over her head, and at times disregard her own safety. The dialogue conveys too little information, and even the most sympathetic character, Emily’s young uncle Max, never manages to talk to her about her problem. Half-heard conversations and uncompleted statements assure that the reader never really understands the adults’ actions.
I was not surprised that the book ends without a resolution to Emily’s problem, since her problem could not easily be solved. However, there also seems to be no growth in any of the characters. I kept waiting for a climax, and when it came, I felt left out of the information loop. Emily’s mother can’t complete more than a few words without crying, and her father rarely finishes his sentences.
Distracting errors in editing and layout appear sporadically throughout the book, but these things could be updated and fixed in a later edition. I was more concerned by the book’s lack of a focused audience. Adults will find the dialogue and plot too thin, but the inclusion of an adult-themed preview for the author’s other book at the back of this one makes it problematic for child audiences.
See Also: Stephanie's Website