fiction

Book Review: Girl A by Abigail Dean

I somehow missed the nightmare Turpin case when it broke, but I’ve followed it ever since I learned about it (my God. Those poor kids). So when I learned about Girl A by Abigail Dean (Viking, 2021), a novel that seemed like a fictionalized account of the Turpin story, set in Great Britain, it went onto my list. It took for-ev-er for this to actually be in at the library, however; seems as though everyone in my town is just as horrified by that story as I am.

Girl A is Alexandra, or Lex, the eldest daughter and second eldest child of the Gracie family, where eight children were discovered, chained and emaciated, living in unbelievable filth. She’s the one who escaped, who dropped from a second-story window and broke her leg in the process, but who saved her other siblings. Her father poisoned himself before the police showed up, and Mom went to prison; now, at the beginning of the story, Lex is an adult, a lawyer, traveling back to England from New York City, to deal with her mother’s death.

The story jumps back and forth in time, from what happened leading up to the dramatic rescue of the Gracie children, to how growing up in such terrible conditions affected the children as adults. Some have fared better than others; no one has made it out unscathed.

This is a hard book to describe. None of the adult Gracie children are particularly likeable; some of them are a bit frightening in their ability to manipulate. Several are just tragic. It’s hard to get a full read on Lex, since she’s so damaged and deals with that damage by drinking a lot. A revelation later on in the book had me questioning pretty much everything about her, and the murky conclusion didn’t help matters at all.

I enjoyed the storytelling of this novel, but I wish there had been more concrete conclusions, and that it had felt more solid as a whole. If you’ve read this, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Visit Abigail Dean’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

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fiction

Book Review: God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney

I can’t remember where I learned about God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney (William Morrow, 2021), but the premise intrigued me immediately. I’m fascinated by religion, and even fiction with religious twists or drama is enough to pull me in. Usually I swing more towards cults or cult-like settings, but I’m not picky; I’ll take average, everyday religious drama!

Abigail and Caroline are daughters of a famous megachurch pastor, Luke Nolan, who rose to fame years ago after a sermon on purity went viral. Now, Abigail is getting married, Caroline is about to head off to college, and it’s come to light that Luke has been having an affair for over a year. This is major news, bound to affect everyone affiliated with The Hope, Luke’s church, and Abigail and Caroline are directly in the path of the fallout.

Taking refuge at the ranch they inherited from their deceased grandmother, the sisters grow close for the first time as they spend their days trying to understand what happened, how they got here, what exactly growing up with Luke Nolan as a father has done to both of them. More secrets are revealed, and Caroline’s desperation increases as the summer nears an end and Abigail’s wedding inches closer.

I really wanted to love this book, and it was okay. Luke Nolan obviously has some major skeletons in the closet, and both he and his wife, Abigail and Caroline’s mother, were extremely well-written and true to character, easily recognizable if you have even the slightest bit of knowledge or interest in what American evangelical megachurches have looked like over the past twenty or thirty years. Luke is the narcissistic pastor determined to remain in the limelight; his wife, ever-adoring, keeps a smile plastered on her face at all times, despite what it costs her.

Abigail is the quintessential eldest daughter, solid, hard-working, always keeping up appearances like she’s learned from her mother. Caroline, the younger, more forgotten child, has space to wonder, to question, to doubt, and to forge her own path; no one is as dependent on her as they are on Abigail, which is both good and hurtful.

The characters were all well-developed; the plot, or lack thereof at times, was where the book lost me a bit. Drama would build up, and then…nothing. Not much of anything would happen. Any kind of action was sacrificed on the altar of Caroline’s (the narrator’s) inner turmoil (which is likely true to real life, but in fiction, I expect a little more action, you know?). I kept waiting for more things to happen to advance the plot forward, for the realizations the daughters came to to move things along, but it never really happened, and at least one of the daughters is arguably worse off at the end than at the beginning. Not much at all changes, and that just kind of left me feeling flat and uninspired at the end. I didn’t fully dislike this one; I just felt as though it lacked any real purpose at its conclusion. Interesting, yes, but it didn’t follow through enough on its initial promise of drama for me.

Visit Kelsey McKinney’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books by Mark Glickman

I can’t actually remember how Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books by Mark Glickman (The Jewish Publication Society, 2015) ended up on my TBR; likely a mention by one of the many Jewish pages I follow on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Books and reading have always been an important part of being Jewish (we are the People of the Book!), and so learning about and understanding what happened to Jewish books during and after World War II was something that piqued my interest. Boy, did I learn a LOT from this book!

So, almost everyone knows that the Nazi burned books. Most of us have seen pictures of people throwing books onto a huge bonfire, and we use Nazi book burning as a metaphor for the dangers of censorship. But most of us probably don’t know that their book burning phase didn’t last very long; they quickly moved on to collecting books. That’s right. The Nazis stole, then collected Jewish writings even as they mowed down the Jewish people during World War II. They planned to study the writings of the culture they had wiped out. Fortunately, they lost, and afterwards, one of the many questions to be answered at war’s end became, “Now what do we do with all these millions of books?”

In order to help the reader understand the importance of this question, Rabbi Mark Glickman begins the book with a fascinating look at the history of Jewish texts and the emphasis on reading and study that has always been central to Judaism. The second section segues into the many heartbreaking ways the Nazis stole and desecrated our texts; the third, how so many people worked for years to return said texts to their rightful owners, or, barring the ability to do that, to send the texts to the places they would again be loved and cherished. This was obviously a massive amount of work; millions upon millions of books and papers had been stolen and hidden away, or stored in places that ranged from caves to castles. Moving these books involved multiple organizations working tirelessly for years.

This is an incredible book that tells a story I hadn’t heard before. I had no idea about the Nazis stealing books; even with all the reading I’ve done about history, World War II, and the Shoah, I had been under the impression that they burned books and nothing else. I had no clue about the massive troves of Jewish literature that lay hidden after the war, nor of the incredible effort of so many people to return these books to communities and organizations that would recognize them for the treasures that they are. This book presented a brand-new understanding of history to me, and I’m grateful to Rabbi Glickman for having penned such an interested, eye-opening work. I always appreciate being able to be better informed about anything, but especially Judaism and Jewish history.

fiction

Book Review: Miracles and Menorahs by Stacey Agdern

Representation matters. By now, anyone with half a brain understands this. It’s nice to be able to see parts of who we are on screen, in the pages of a book, in whatever media we consume. I always enjoy learning of new (or new-to-me; I’m often behind in just about everything) Jewish fiction, because seeing characters casually discuss the same holidays I celebrate, or approaching a difficult situation with a mindset they learned from the Jewish influences in their lives just makes my heart sing. I was happy to learn about Miracles and Menorahs by Stacey Agdern (Tule Publishing Group, 2020), and even happier to find it on the shelves of my library.

Sarah Goldman is second in command on the board of her small town’s Hanukkah festival (yup, you read that right!), a tradition that’s been going on for many years, but some people in the town want changes. More red, more green, more trees…boy, is this sounding familiar. But Sarah’s determined to keep the festival all Hanukkah, and for that, she’s going to need something special, like a giant menorah (how they didn’t already have one of these already kind of baffled me…). But where could she possibly find one of those so late in the game?

Enter Isaac Lieberman, metal artist and grandson of one of the town’s most beloved members. He’s single, good-looking, talented…and 100% against any kind of commercialization of Hanukkah, so making a giant menorah for Sarah’s festival is definitely not on his list of priorities. Bummer. But as he and Sarah spend more time together and Isaac gets to know the town where his bubbe lives, he may just change his mind…about a lot of things.

This is a very sweet Hanukkah romance – there’s no more action than a few chaste kisses, so if you avoid anything hotter than a bell pepper, you’ll be okay picking up Miracles and Menorahs. It’s basically a Hallmark movie in book form.

The ups: Jewish representation. SO much rep. Most of the town is Jewish (which makes a few of the board members cranky to suddenly find their holiday in the minority; the whole situation is shades of @JewWhoHasItAll on Twitter, a great follow!), and Jewish foods and rituals are discussed without needing much explanation, which is pretty awesome. I love seeing that in books. The small town is, for the most part, incredible in the way that small towns only are in books (I’m from a small town. In reality, it’s snobbery, gossip, arrogance, bigotry, hypocrisy, and hatred with a cute downtown. It breaks my heart, really), and the bookstore where Sarah works is charming.

The downs: I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. I found the writing a bit stilted, there wasn’t nearly enough action to keep me interested, and I felt like the book could have benefitted from a stronger editor (overuse of certain words, stronger action, heavier on the drama). What drama did exist in the book felt…boring, some of it (Isaac’s mother, especially) felt overdone and a little unrealistic, and to be honest, I had a hard time finishing the book. I will say that I prefer my fiction to be written in first-person; this is written in third, and I have a harder time connecting to that, so some of my issues connecting with this book are definitely mine, because plenty of other people have enjoyed it.

Miracles and Menorahs is part of a series. I’m disappointed that I don’t feel enough of a connection to the book or the characters to continue on with the other books, but if this sounds like something you’re interested in picking up, you’re in luck that there are several books beyond this one.

Visit Stacey Agdern’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: The Outside World by Tova Mirvis

A while back, I learned about Tova Mirvis and became interested in reading her books. I started with her memoir, The Book of Separation, and I loved it, so I was curious as to what her fiction looked like. I was able to get a copy of The Outside World (Vintage, 2004), and I was hooked on the first page. I am 100000000000% in now for reading everything she’s ever written, and I don’t say this about many authors. (And y’all know I don’t read heaps of fiction, so this is HUGE.)

Tzippy Goldman has been dreaming of her wedding day since she was a child. Marriage is a huge deal in her Orthodox Jewish community, and the discussion of and planning for her eventual wedding was a bonding point between Tzippy and her mother, a woman who only became Orthodox as an adult and who is always grappling to fit in and achieve a higher social status. But now that she’s in her early 20’s and still single, Tzippy’s thisclose to becoming an old maid, and her mother’s panic is grating on her. Off to Israel for a year of study and to hopefully get some space, she finally meets – or re-meets a childhood friend, Bryan, who now goes by Baruch, and the two quickly become inseparable.

Baruch’s parents are stressed to the hilt over their son’s metamorphosis from a sports-loving, Columbia-bound teenager into this black hat-wearing, strictly observant young man. It’s causing some definite friction at home, and both parents fear for his future and begin to question their own commitment to their family traditions. As Baruch and Tzippy begin to build their life together, all back home is definitely not well, and the pressures of the community will wear on everyone.

My goodness, this was an utterly fascinating look into the stress of an insular Orthodox Jewish community. Different levels of observance, the pressure to marry, the insane pressure to follow community norms, the gossip, the subtle – and not-so-subtle – demands to go with the flow or be ostracized, the gossip, all of it makes for interesting and complex characters who are struggling to find themselves and where they fit in within the confines of a restrictive society. The Outside World is narrated by multiple characters (my favorite!); Ms. Mirvis does an absolutely incredible job at showing varying commitments to observance, what changing observance looks like, and the confusion, the thought processes, and the stress it takes to navigate such changing waters.

I truly enjoyed all of this. I loved the look into the community, the questioning, Baruch’s increased observance versus his father’s dwindling desire to remain observant, versus his mother’s foray into the more mystical aspects of Judaism. I loved Shayna’s desperate attempts to do anything and everything she could to gain status in the community and Tzippy’s increasing frustration with her.

The Outside World definitely assumes a level of familiarity with Orthodox Judaism, so if you’re going to pick this up (and you should!) and there’s something you don’t understand, ask your Jewish friends (*waves*) or go check out My Jewish Learning and do a search there. They’re an excellent resource for all things Jewish.

Loved, loved, loved this book, and now I’m super excited about reading the rest of Tova Mirvis’s fiction!

Visit Tova Mirvis’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · middle grade

Book Review: The Book of Elsie by Joanne Levy

Jewish books! My absolutely favorite, and since I don’t always check NetGalley with regularity (because I’m pretty realistic about what I have time for, unless it’s a used book sale and then all reality flies out the window), I often miss out on what they have to offer. Not this time! I came across The Book of Elsie by Joanne Levy (Orca Book Publishers, 2022) while browsing NetGalley’s stacks one day and leapt to request it. Lo and behold, I was approved! Huge thanks to NetGalley. Orca Book Publishers, and Joanne Levy for allowing me to read and review this book.

Elsie is super excited about Purim this year. Her Queen Esther costume, created by her costume designer dad and which she’s still trying to accessorize with the perfect finishing touches, is going to be amazing, and she can’t wait to wear it at her synagogue’s Purim celebration. But then the bad news drops: the Purim celebration is cancelled. The synagogue is in serious financial trouble and is in danger of closing altogether. Elsie is devastated…and then she gets to work. If Queen Esther saved the Jews, Elsie can surely save her synagogue!

With her rabbi’s approval, Elsie’s synagogue opens up the Purim celebration to outsiders and begins to sell tickets to the events. It’s not just hamantaschen and hard work; Elsie and her best friend Grace experience a little bit of prejudice along the way. Things only get dicier when the synagogue is vandalized. Can Elsie continue to find inspiration in the story of Esther, or will Purim and the synagogue be cancelled entirely?

This is a charming, modern-day story centered around the Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates how Queen Esther saved the Jewish people from imminent death at the hands of the evil villain Haman. It’s traditional to dress up in costumes (biblical or not; there was a banana at my synagogue this year), get drunk (yes, really!), and make lots of noise (including a very loud, “BOOOOOOOOOOOO!” when Haman’s name is mentioned). Elsie’s Christian best friend Grace serves as an outsider who’s unfamiliar with Purim and needs the basics explained to her, opening up this story to be enjoyed and understood by middle grade readers of all backgrounds.

Elsie is a spunky, determined kid who doesn’t always make the right choices (and what kid does?), but she learns from her mistakes and has excellent follow-through. Not only is this book full of fabulous Jewish representation, her best friend is Black, and her two dads, Dad and Abba, make for great LGBT representation, especially as it’s never commented on as being a Thing, just presented as Elsie’s everyday life, which I loved.

There are a few instances of antisemitism and racism here. Nothing violent and in-your-face scary, but sensitive kids on the younger end of the middle grade spectrum who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of what it means to live with these threats may benefit a few conversations about them with a loving adult. Elsie’s courage in the face of hatred and the violation of her community’s sacred space provides a great lesson in bravery and the refusal to back down when it comes to creating the kind of future you want and need.

The Book of Elsie is a quick, charming read that should delight younger readers as well as educate those who may not be familiar with Purim. This would make for a great parent-child read; not only is it a lovely book headed by a determined main character, there are a lot of great discussion points throughout the book, and I can imagine many wonderful conversations a parent and child may have as they make their way through the story. I’m going to read this with my eight-year-old soon. I expect that she’ll love it. : )

Visit Joanne Levy’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

food · food history · memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew by Michael W. Twitty

It’s not hugely often that I’m in time to spot Jewish books on NetGalley (I’m deeply realistic about what I have time for, so I tend to not browse the NetGalley shelves too often!), but I was thrilled when I happened to be clicking through and stumbled upon Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew by Michael W. Twitty (Amistad Press, 2022). I was so excited when I received notice that my request had been approved. Into the world of Black Jewish cooking I dove!

Michael Twitty is a chef and a writer, living at the intersection of Black and Jewish in a country (and a world) that doesn’t have an excess amount of kindness for either group. That said, despite people’s confusion, despite people not understanding and deliberately not bothering to learn, being Black and Jewish co-exists beautifully together and is expressed lovingly in many ways, chiefly in the food that Mr. Twitty cooks. From the traditional dishes of various African countries, to the meals cooked up in the slave cabins of his ancestors, to the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions that are now his traditions, Michael Twitty finds deep meaning in the art and flavors of cooking and how his many beautiful identities color his culinary creations.

Part-memoir, part academic history, part exploration of the culture of food and how our identity contributes to what we cook (and how Black identity in particular brings not just baggage, but joy and beauty), Koshersoul defies genre – maybe making the point that those of us with multiple intersecting identities defy traditional classification as well.

Michael Twitty is a talented, eloquent writer. His writing is scholarly enough to challenge my exhausted, pandemic-addled brain, but friendly and comfortable enough that reading this is joyful. He writes of his life, his ancestors, with a deep reverence, and the same reverence is afforded to the food he creates and serves. To him, cooking is an art and deserves the same respect afforded to works of art, and his veneration of tradition has made me consider cooking in a different way: less of a chore, more of an act of worship, a respect for those who came before us, a celebration of who we are and our survival over the centuries. They tried to kill us; they failed; let’s eat.

Koshersoul wanders from subject to subject; it doesn’t follow any linear structure, but that’s part of what keeps it so interesting. His interviews with other Black Jews and chefs (many of whom I already follow on Twitter, so it was great seeing their words in long form!) intrigued me, but I also deeply appreciated reading Mr. Twitty’s experiences, difficult as some of them must have been to recount (racism is, unfortunately, alive and well in the Jewish community). The book is also heavy on Judaism and his life within it, so that absolutely called to me and made my own soul happy.

Koshersoul is available from all major retailers on August 9th (and it contains recipes!).

Visit Michael W. Twitty’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church, edited by Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O’Neal

I’ve been doing my volunteer work for over a year now, compiling lists of resources to help people who are leaving or have left high-control religious groups (cults, for sure, but also the kind of churches that aren’t necessarily regarded as cults but which take over their members’ entire lives). It’s deeply fulfilling work, and it makes me happy to know that I’m helping people build stronger, more meaningful lives. There are so many people out there who need this kind of support, and this is obvious in books like Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church, edited by Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O’Neal (Epiphany Publishing, 2019). This has been on my list since it came out, but the pandemic stopped me from visiting the nearby library where it was located. The pandemic isn’t over, unfortunately, but I’ve been able to check books out from that library lately, and I’m thrilled! (Also, I learned that Chrissy Stroop and I have a mutual friend, which makes me feel cool by association – the only kind of cool I’ve ever been, hehehe.)

This is a collection of essays by various authors who have left different forms of Christianity. Some have left more cult-like groups (like the IFB); others have left what are regarded as more mainstream churches, evangelical or otherwise. What all have in common is an awakening, be it sudden or gradual, that this was not a good fit for them, for various reasons. Some left immediately afterwards; others tried hard to cram themselves into a box where they would never fit. All made their way out in a painful process that, for many, takes a lifetime to recover from.

I love essay collections, and this was a great read on a difficult and emotional subject. I was pleased to recognize many of the authors – some from Twitter, others because I’ve read their writing elsewhere. The authors are all in various stages of exit: some are still freshly out, while others have been out for years. Their pain and sadness are all similar, however; it’s hard to leave such all-encompassing belief systems, and it shows in these essays.

Empty the Pews is thought-provoking. Not quite a condemnation of Christianity, but it points out where it hurts its members, where it’s doing more to chase people out than fill the pews, and the pain it causes, which can ripple down through the generations. Ms. Stroop and Ms. O’Neal have collected and edited a wonderful collection of essays that doesn’t hold back in illustrating the pain its authors have gone through, and this book should be an eye-opener for those who haven’t had the experiences of their religion pinning a target on their back solely for who they are.

Wonderful collection, and I’m glad I finally got to read it.

Visit Chrissy Stroop’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Follow Lauren O’Neal on Twitter here.

Visit the website for Empty the Pews here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Since Sinai: A Convert’s Path to Judaism by Shannon Gonyou

Another Jewish book from NetGalley! I’m on a roll, baby!!!

I’ve followed Shannon Gonyou on Twitter for a while now. She converted to Judaism, like me, and I’m always interested in the perspectives of other converts: the whys, the similarities and differences to my own conversion. Shannon has always seemed insightful, with a good sense of humor, so I was thrilled to learn she’d written a conversion memoir. Lo and behold, there it was on NetGalley! I requested (of course!), and voilà, the acceptance email for Since Sinai: A Convert’s Path to Judaism by Shannon Gonyou (Msi Press, 2022) landed in my inbox a few days later. I may have gasped in excitement. Huge thank you to NetGalley, Msi Press, and Shannon Gonyou for the opportunity to read and review this book!

Shannon Gonyou grew up Catholic, the stipulation of her birth mother to the parents who adopted and raised her. They weren’t super into it, but they dutifully raised her in the faith, which didn’t particularly interest her as a young child, but in which Shannon took a greater interest as she grew older. She had a lot of questions, of course; maybe more questions than her religious educators cared for, and the answers often rang a little more hollow than she would’ve liked, but Shannon held on, trying to carve out a place for herself in Catholicism. The evangelical church she tried out next was much the same. Both churches’ white savior complexes felt faulty, along with their one-size-fits-all belief systems. What’s a spiritual-seeking girl to do?

Judaism was something Shannon just kept coming back to, over and over. She’d question friends, co-workers, classmates, anyone who she met and learned was Jewish. The tradition kept calling to her until finally, she blurted out to her husband one Christmas eve (what better time?) that she wanted to be Jewish. To his absolute credit, despite being caught somewhat off guard, her husband was remarkably understanding, and eventually he came to fall just as deeply in love with Judaism as Shannon did. This is the story of Shannon’s religious journey, from questioning Catholic to deeply committed Jew, and all that happened in between.

This is an absolutely lovely memoir. Shannon’s story is winding, full of questions and the struggle to find herself in traditions that weren’t quite meant for her. Conversion is a huge, intimidating leap (I sat in front of my first email to the rabbi I converted with for over a week, struggling to come up with the exact words that expressed how deeply I had fallen in love with Judaism); being able to travel her journey with her in all its stops and starts, in the moves she now considers uncomfortable at best (such as the mission trips she went on), was truly enjoyable. I saw a lot of my own story in hers and it was a true joy to not only read about Shannon’s path to the mikvah, but to also be able to compare and relive my own journey there.

This is no dry, dusty, stodgy memoir; Shannon Gonyou writes as though she’s having a warm, comfortable conversation with her oldest friend, and every sentence is infused with her love of Judaism and her absolute delight in having made her way home to where she belongs. If you don’t know much about Judaism and are curious as to why someone would choose to become a member of a traditionally persecuted group, Since Sinai will lead you to a greater understanding. If, like me, you’ve converted to Judaism, you’ll definitely see yourself in these pages. And if you’re in the process or are considering converting, this book will enlighten you as to what the process might look like for you – and you can pass it along to your family and friends when they have questions, too.

Since Sinai was an absolute delight to read. Pre-pandemic, I was staying off the internet on Shabbat, but fell away from that practice when the internet became my sole connection with family and friends who were similarly isolated. Reading this moved me back to the place where I felt ready to do that again, and I very much welcomed that haven of calm and peace the last few weeks.

Follow Shannon Gonyou on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: The Book of Separation by Tova Mirvis

Sometimes books we really want to read end up on our TBR and…that’s where they stay. Through no fault of their own, they linger, unread and unloved, until finally, we get the kick in the pants we need to tackle them. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read all those ebooks on my list. Well… The Book of Separation by Tova Mirvis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) had been on my list long enough that it was no longer available in ebook format through my library. Thank goodness for interlibrary loan so I could still knock this one out!

Tova Mirvis was raised in a Modern Orthodox Jewish home in Memphis, Tennessee. She attended Jewish schools, sat in the women’s section of the synagogue, wore the clothing deemed acceptable for a Modern Orthodox girl, and almost everyone she knew was also Orthodox. And under all these restrictions, Tova chafed. She questioned. She doubted. Marrying an Orthodox man doesn’t help; Tova feels even more constricted than ever.

But in her community, questioning isn’t really accepted. Follow the line and you’re in, loved and cherished; step outside, even a single toe, and people start talking. The weight of it all becomes too much for Tova, although now, she has three children to consider. How will her leaving affect them? How will she raise them with her still-Orthodox ex-husband, and how will they grapple with the fact that Mom doesn’t share their practices anymore? This is a memoir of deep feeling, of the necessity of living authentically and finding a way to navigate the difficulties that develop along the way.

The Book of Separation is beautifully written, though the subject matter is quite heavy. Tova tried for years to find a place for herself in a world, in a society that didn’t have space for women like her, that couldn’t tolerate deviation from the party line. Orthodoxy can be a beautiful way of life for many people; for others, it’s more akin to a straitjacket- both of these things can be true at the same time, and I feel deeply for those like Tova Mirvis who struggle to fit in to a community they instinctively know isn’t right for them. I’m Jewish, but not Orthodox, and memoirs like Tova’s always help me both learn and appreciate the beauty and wonder in my own stream. Orthodoxy’s strict gender roles definitely aren’t for me (and, to be honest, I’ve never been interested in traditions that aren’t accepting of the LGBT+ community), but I very much appreciate the look at what an Orthodox life is.

I also really loved the descriptions of how Ms. Mirvis navigated the choppy waters of parenting children who have various levels of commitment to the Orthodoxy they’re being raised in. One wants to remain observant; another can’t stand the restrictions, and she skillfully manages to accommodate them both, a level of parenting I aspire to (…can we get a parenting manual, or…?). Her gentle questions and reassurances to her children are lovely to read.

This is a lovely, heartbreaking memoir that I’m glad I finally got to. I sincerely hope Ms. Mirvis continues to discover her place in this world, and I look forward to reading more from her (which I will, since I have several more of her books on my TBR!).

Visit Tova Mirvis’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.