Woohoo, Jewish books! Always looking to add them to my list, and I was super excited to learn about the existence of The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen by Isaac Blum (Philomel Books, 2022). There aren’t a ton of YA books set in an Orthodox community (I do manage to find some from time to time!), so this one particularly excited me.
Yehuda ‘Hoodie’ Rosen’s Orthodox community recently moved from its mostly-Jewish area to a smaller, non-Jewish area, and everyone is feeling the strain of being the new folks in town who don’t fit in (no thanks to the longtime residents who don’t exactly roll out the welcome mat). He’s a bit of a slacker at school, kind of laid-back, but things start to change in his life when he meets Anna-Marie, the daughter of the mayor. Hoodie starts to fall for her, despite her not being Jewish (really, he shouldn’t be talking to her at all, as per community norms…), and when his family finds out, Hoodie is in t.r.o.u.b.l.e.
But things aren’t going well for his community. There’s antisemitic graffiti. Nasty comments. Violence. Hoodie’s just trying to reach out, form some bonds, make things better, right? It doesn’t much matter; Hoodie’s definitely on the outs for spending time with not just an outsider, but a girl. And then the shooting happens.
This is a fabulous look into a world most of us don’t get to see. If you’re not Jewish, there may be a term or a concept here and there that’s unfamiliar; in that case, Google is your friend (understanding these things really does add depth to the story, and hey, learning is always good, so don’t miss out! And feel free to ask me in the comments if you read this and need help with anything. I’m always happy to help!). Hoodie’s world may seem a little small, but it’s really not; it’s rich with family, friends, community, learning. It may not always be the best fit for everyone, and some people may struggle a bit (and this is illustrated in the story in gentle ways), but I really appreciated Mr. Blum’s fair look at this particular community.
Hoodie’s attraction to Anna-Marie is a little heart-breaking, at least it was from my adult perspective. It’s doomed from the start, and Anna-Marie has an entirely different mindset from him, along with a streak of…I don’t want to say cruelty, maybe indifference, that shows up later on. Both characters have some growing up to do – entirely understandable, as they’re both teenagers – so they struggle to navigate their differences and places in the world, and Anna-Marie’s reasons for getting to know Hoodie in the first place aren’t exactly noble. But the violence wrought upon the community changes everything, and Mr. Blum does a phenomenal job at handling this. Truly fantastic writing in the final quarter of the book.
I really enjoyed this. The characters are complex and well-crafted, each one a distinct personality; the Orthodox community is portrayed wonderfully and fairly, and the novel as a whole works really well. For a debut novel, this is amazing, and I’m seriously looking forward to reading everything Isaac Blum writes in the future.
Visit Isaac Blum’s website here.