16 November 2010


Hush by Eishes Chayil  (09.14.2010, Walker Books)
Guest Review by Kelly Lucas

About four months ago (mid-July for those who can’t do math like me), my supervisor at Bloomsbury USA* handed me the ARC of Hush by Eishes Chayil and said, “You have to read this book.” All I knew about Hush was that it was a story about a Chassidic Jewish girl in Brooklyn, and that Eishes Chayil was also a Chassidic Jewish woman. The cover and the title also leave little to the imagination: a young woman a is being hushed with a finger to her lips. It was not hard for me to put together that I was about to take a very in depth and emotional journey into a community that a few people know a little about. I began the book immediately on the train ride home, and finished it three days later.

Now that Hush has been released and you can find it in bookstores nationwide, I’m telling you: You have to read this book. Hush is a unique look into the Chassidic community; one that I’ve never seen before in other books or on television. Chassidic Jews value a strong community setting and this can lead to more isolationist tendencies. They have their own temples and schools in their community and it’s harder to get out than it is to get in. Going against this community is considered a sin because the Torah states that one should never say anything bad about another Jew.

Eishes’s voice is shockingly real. In the very beginning Gittel, the main character and narrator, describes to the reader that her community is the best community of all; that they are better than all the other Chassidic Jews, and are especially better than other conservative or  reform Jews. At first this disturbed me, but I realized that Gittel, and Eishes, didn’t know any different. Hush must be read with the acknowledgement that Gittel and the people in her community were raised to think in this way about themselves and other Jews. However, this does not mean that all Chassidic communities or other Jewish communities have this mentality. This is one tragic case that is, unfortunately, based on a true story.
The semi-autobiographical story is told in two parts: in 2003, when Gittel is ten, and in 2010, when Gittel is seventeen going on eighteen. The two voices created in this time-split narration are surprisingly believable. Ten-year-old Gittel has an innocence that comes through in her speech. When a tragedy occurs, she becomes confused as everything is hushed and ignored by the community and she doesn’t know how to handle it except by following their lead. Seventeen-year-old Gittel has become a young woman going through the process of engagement and marriage, but is harboring a pain she needs answers to-- except, she can’t get them. The her own parents and the community continues to hush her and ignore the problem.

I’m obviously not going to tell you what the tragedy is, Eishes’s storytelling is too powerful for it to be ruined** - so DON’T read any summaries online and avoid the description on Amazon***. Hush is one of those books where you laugh, cry, and want more at the end. I loved turning page after page, learning more about Gittel’s story and the Chassidism’s traditions. She takes you through Passover, Purim (my personal favorite Jewish holiday), Channukah and so much more. You even learn why Eishes chose her pseudonym (yes, it’s a pseudonym). “Eishes Chayil” means “woman of valor” and she truly is one. I don’t know what would happen if her community found out she wrote this, but it would not be good. The issue Eishes discusses is powerful and important and one I greatly care about-- which is why I chose this book in particular. Gittel, also a woman of valor, learns that it is important to stand up and fight, and not remain silent.
Eishes could not remain hushed and spoke, or rather wrote, out. I am following in their footsteps and speaking out too.**** No one’s going to tell me to hush, and no one should tell you either. So, for Eishes Chayil, Gittel, and everyone who is effected in the real life story, go read Hush. Speak out with us.

End Notes:

*I was fortunate enough to be an intern in the Marketing/Sales department this past summer at Bloomsbury US (which is how I came to enable Laura with her ARC of The Mockingbirds).
**I cried when I found out. I cried about four different times throughout the book. THAT’S how awesome this is.
***Seriously, I didn’t know and it was....magical. Too many emotions ran through me to even describe.

****Actually, I’m very active in speaking out, but we’re going to ignore that for right now. 

13 November 2010

You Should Start Looking for Space on Your Bookshelf NOW

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney (11.02.2010 by Little, Brown and Company)
A review by Laura Beutler
I keep getting the BEST MAIL EVER!

Guess what I got!


Come ON—what did I get?

Fine. Whatever. I’ll tell you.

Months ago, I sat at my computer at the library and read pre-published buzz about a book. This book, the reviewers said, was very good. Very very good. I heard whispers about what powerful prose the book had. I heard it compared to Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson… That’s high praise indeed.

One night, suddenly, when I saw the name of the book again, I decided there was no other option. I had to get my hands on the book. No. Matter. What.

Naturally, I did the only thing possible in such a circumstance: I whined on Twitter.
“Twitter!” I begged. “I need an ARC of The Mockingbirds by @DaisyWhitney! @littlebrown—HELP”

The begging went on for several hours. I was really quite pathetic, and rather annoying. (Bailey can attest that this went on until quite recently and was, in fact, pathetic. But not annoying because she, too, has been this pathetic.) But desperation does funny things to me, and if other people get to read exciting new books before I can get my hands on them…I start whining*.

Daisy Whitney was sympathetic. My twin**, Kelly, took pity on me. Turns out, when Kelly was working in publishing, she had scored tons of ARCs and one of them was The Mockingbirds! She agreed to send it to me, thus winning my eternal love and adoration.
I read The Mockingbirds in one sitting. I didn’t move until it was done.

The second I had finished, I went over and put my copy right next to Speak on my bookshelf, where it belongs.

The Mockingbirds
is quite simply the most beautiful, powerful novel I’ve read in ages.


Alex attends Themis Academy, an elite boarding school with an administration that expects students to follow the school’s honor code and manage their own behavior. The trouble is, the honor code alone isn’t enough to keep students safe from each other. When Alex is date-raped during her junior year, her friends take her to meet with The Mockingbirds, a secret society dedicated to right the wrongs of Themis.

From her first meeting with The Mockingbirds, Alex struggles with the trauma of what she’s been through and the ridicule of other students. Alex is an amazing protagonist—the pinnacle of what a strong female character should be. She doesn’t allow herself to be abused; instead she trusts her friends and seeks help when she needs it. I love Alex.

Personally, I think every girl should have a copy of The Mockingbirds and a copy of Speak. Preferably more than one, because I am a strong believer in having extra copies of books that inspire so I can give them away when people I know need them!

So, when I opened a package from Little Brown, and Company and discovered another ARC of The Mockingbirds, I instantly formed a plan. (And I have to say--two copies of The Mockingbirds delivered to my door? Now you understand, right? Best. Mail. Ever.)

The plan grew when I opened a note from Daisy Whitney, who must be getting some enjoyment out of my obsession with her book. She sent me a bookplate, signed to me, along with official The Mockingbirds bookmarks!


I’m GIVING one of YOU an ARC of The Mockingbirds, along with a fancy Mockingbirds bookmark! Two more of you will get a The Mockingbirds bookmark.

(Psst…This giveaway is open to readers in the USA only, guys, because I’m a poor librarian.)

The contest for these cool prizes begins Monday, November 15 and runs through Monday, November 22 (midnight EST).  ONE (1) entry is placed in the Contest Hat by leaving a comment below; ONE (1) entry in placed in the Contest Hat for tweeting or RT'ing about the contest on Twitter with the hashtag #MHLitContest; and FIVE (5) entries are placed in the Contest Hat for doing something creative.  

Full rules, regulations, and reminders for contests can be found HERE.  Be sure to read over that information before entering. 


End Notes:
*Publishers—to shut me up, the easiest thing to do is to send me an ARC of the book in question! Plus, I have a Kindle! So it will be easy for you to just send the e-book my way, and since it’s digital, you know I’ll buy the hardcover the second it’s released anyway! I tend to do that. My bank account complains, but what does it know?

**Kelly and I didn’t grow up in the same home or anything, and we’ve never gone through any kind of genetic testing to prove our twin-ness, but we are clearly twins.

06 November 2010

Are You There Title? It's Me... Bailey

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (published 1970, Yearling)
A review by Bailey Kelsey

I got a little story for you, readers!

When I was almost twelve, I was Margaret Simon.  I don't care that Blume's Margaret Simon was almost-twelve in 1970 and that I was almost-twelve in 2000.  There are several dozen social and political differences that make the time when Margaret Simon was almost-twelve and when I was almost-twelve very different.  

I am twenty-two. I just read Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for the first time. And while I was reading it, I kept asking (out loud, of course, and yes, I was alone in my apartment. No, I don’t see a problem with that) “Why on EARTH didn’t I have this book when I was ALMOST-TWELVE?!” So what if my neighbors thought I’d gone off the deep end, shouting about books while alone in my apartment-- This was an important question! I’ve been looking for an answer to it all week. Why didn’t I have this book, and what kind of an impact would it have had on my life had I been given a copy? Let’s take a look back, shall we?

Here are the facts of my almost-twelve life:

I had no religion. I remember calling my friend in the sixth grade and asking if she wanted to start a religion with me because "I wasn't born into one."  She informed me that she had been born into a religion and that her God didn't want her worshipping anyone besides Him. Aside from being forced into starched dresses for Easter and Christmas services at my grandparent’s church*, this was my first introduction to religion. And it was that she had a god and I... didn’t.

Margaret struggles with understanding how and why people feel a need to form religious communities to talk to and reach and understand God, because she has always spoken to God right inside her head, and felt his responses right in her soul.  Margaret's naivety and separation from any one religion is a necessary reminder that God is not a religion.  God is a power, an entity, a something that exists first WITHIN each of us.

*I don't really think that these attendances, or my subsequent begging not to attend church services, should really count into my religious experience.  I was a small child.  The two most unparalleled evils in the world were putting on a velveteen dress and tights, and then being forced to SIT STILL for what felt like HOURS ON END.  I have since removed these memories from my outlook on all things religious.

I was small.  If you haven't read the book, by small Margaret is referring to having small breasts.  This still remains true about me, but unlike when I was almost-twelve, I don't get made fun of for this at twenty-two.  I was mercilessly teased at almost-twelve.**
Margaret prays to God throughout the book that He will help her grow.  I must say, praying to God didn't even OCCUR to me at almost twelve, but in hindsight maybe it should have.  However, that chant the Four PTS's (the Pre-Teen Sensations!) repeated throughout the book? We must--we must-- we must increase our bust!?  Oh yeah, my mother taught me that when I was almost-twelve; my friends and I definitely did that one.  Not sure that ever helped, but nature and maturity did eventually just take over.

**A short story:  I was so mercilessly teased by a particular girl in the seventh grade (she started a rumor that I stuffed my bra) that the school threatened to move one or both of us from the middle school locker room to the high school locker room.  She dropped the rumor and I stopped crying about it because high school girls were a threat of mutual destruction to us.  We stayed in the middle school locker room; thus began our subtle destruction tactics of one another.

I kept a boy book. Oh yes, I did.  With my best friend, who shall remain nameless here.  But we called it something different (something less original, but also, less obvious).  We used to map out plans in that book.  We would pass it back and forth each weekend-- she'd have it one week, I'd have it the next week, etc.  We would talk on the phone for hours at night, or AIM later on, and whoever had the book would record our plans.  There were plans about getting crushes to birthday parties; how to rig Spin the Bottle so we'd kiss said crushes; rankings of the cutest boys in our grade; first date plans; get ex-boyfriends back plans.***
Margaret is required to keep a boy book by the rules of the Four PTSs.  However, Margaret is never completely honest about her boy book because she has a crush on her friend's older brother's friend.

***We still have that book.  We now mail it back and forth, and we still plan.

Here in the Present...

I knew the life that was laid out before me at twelve was vastly different from the life laid out before Margaret Simon.  And yet, reading this book at twenty-two, I ached to have had it at almost-twelve.  Of all the things I LIKE about Margaret, of all the parallels I can draw between her sixth grade experience and my sixth grade experience, the thing I like most about Margaret is that she keeps things private. She is learning how to be her own person, and she turns inward, as well as outward, in learning who she is.
Margaret believes throughout the book that personal secrets and private moments are important.  She wonders a few times whether or not the other girls’ are keeping the same sorts of secrets, but its a curious wonder not a judgmental wonder.  The difference in that is important.
There is a level of honesty and curiosity with which Margaret faces the world.  This doesn't make the challenges of a pre-teen any easier, but it does make her a good role-model character.

I may not have had the guidance of Margaret Simon at twelve to let me know I was normal, but it's nice to know, in hindsight, that I was.