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Trade Reviews

  Library Journal Review

Suzanne Toren's heartfelt reading of this first-person narrative lends authentication to this fascinating novel (Riverhead, 1995). In Rachel's Hasidic world, the women wear dark clothes and opaque stockings, even at the beach. Women appear demure to the point of submissiveness. But are Hasidic Jews really so different? Perhaps not. Rachel, a rabbi's daughter, is supposed to set a good example for the community. Unfortunately, she doesn't fit comfortably into the mold that has been chosen for her. However, crossing the line between devout and modern doesn't create instant happiness. Nor does education. Rachel is a voracious reader, and her dreams are embellished upon by the stories she reads. We follow Rachel from teenager into adulthood, from hope to disillusionment. Toren's accents evoke the old country. Although the book becomes repetitious toward the end, the uniqueness of the story makes it compelling. A good purchase for larger fiction collections.‘Jodi Israel, Norwood, Mass. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Booklist Review

Rachel, romance reader and the oldest of seven children, is only 12 as the novel opens and grows into a 19-year-old married woman in the course of Abraham's first novel. This surreptitious reader of romance novels breaks the rules of her Hasidic parents with her visits to libraries and growing independence of mind. Rachel and her sister take advantage of their mother's visit to Israel to take lifesaving lessons and apply for jobs at a private pool. These adventures leave Rachel totally unsuited to the conventional arranged marriage she finds herself in near the novel's end. Abraham provides a great introduction to the Orthodox Jewish culture at the core of this work with her references to the common everyday practices and the clash of growing up different in such a family. --Denise Perry Donavin

  Kirkus Review

Promising debut by Brooklyn teacher Abraham, the seemingly autobiographical story of a young woman growing up in the hermetic world of ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews. Rachel is the oldest of seven children of a rabbi and his unhappy wife, highly traditional Jews living in a small town in upstate New York. A bright, inquisitive, and rebellious girl, Rachel defies the conventions of this tightly self-enclosed community: She wears beige pantyhose, tries hard to get a borrower's card from the local library, resists the arranged marriage her parents yearn for. At the same time, her father struggles tirelessly to establish his own synagogue in a community dominated by adherents of one of the older Hasidic sects, while his wife argues just as vehemently against his efforts. Abraham recounts this coming-of-age story with affection and insight. She makes few concessions to the possible ignorance of non-Jewish (or assimilated Jewish) readers, choosing an austerity of method that has the positive effect of giving an unflinching portrait of a world not open to outsiders. To her lasting credit, the author shows a balanced picture of Hasidic traditions and the emerging complexities of a family's lifeundercutting initial perceptions of what the parents' relationship must be like and readers' expectations of a cardboard opposition between a rebellious ``modern'' daughter and her ``repressive'' religious upbringing. Instead, we get a complex family portrait that even manages to suggest the limitations of Rachel's way of seeing her parents and community. The story does begin to run out of steam in its second half, and the title is unfortunate, suggesting an anthology of bodice-rippers rather than a serious novel. Still, an intelligent first novelpoignant and thoughtfulfrom a writer to watch. (Literary Guild featured alternate; author tour)
Summary
Widely applauded when it was published last year, Pearl Abraham's debut novel The Romance Reader possesses that quality that distinguishes all great fiction--a fresh look at the universal truths that bind us together. Like Chaim Potok, who revealed the Orthodox Jewish world from a young man's perspective in The Chosen , Abraham explores new ground, offering readers a tender story of a young Hasidic woman facing the challenges of growing up and the demands of her religion.<br> <br> Rachel Benjamin is the daughter of a quixotic rabbi who dreams of building a synagogue in the secluded upstate New York bungalow colony where his family now lives. As the rabbi's eldest daughter, Rachel is expected to set an example for her five siblings and for the other girls in the community: she must wear thick opaque tights with seams; she is forbidden to wear a bathing suit in public; and she can never read books in English. But like all young adults, Rachel bristles at the stringent rules set by her family and her religion, rebelling in ways that become increasingly apparent. Whether sneaking sheer nylons in and out of the house or applying for an illicit library card that will allow her access to the romance novels that she loves, Rachel is determined to do things her way. Dreaming of a life that mirrors that of the heroines in her favorite novels, Rachel craves the independence she will never have as a Hasidic woman in an arranged marriage. And yet, as her impending marriage draws inevitably nearer, the pulls of family and faith weigh against the frightening and unknown world beyond her own.<br> <br> This coming-of-age tale is both unusual and familiar--an intriguing, heartfelt look at the power of family and religion in the Hasidic community and the universal desire to leave the nest.
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