cover image The Cure

The Cure

Sonia Levitin, Levitin. Harcourt Children's Books, $16 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201827-6

Levitin (The Singing Mountain) handily combines futuristic science fiction and late-medieval Jewish history in a story reminiscent of Lois Lowry's The Giver. In the year 2407, societal tranquillity is maintained by ample servings of serotonin drinks to the genetically engineered population and by careful monitoring to suppress all expressions of individuality or creativity. When the boy Gemm 16884 somehow feels moved to make music, an extinguished art, he is given a choice between being ""recycled"" (killed) or sent into virtual reality to experience the bad old days as a cure for his deviant desires. Opting for the latter, he finds himself living as Johannes, the 16-year-old son of a Jewish moneylender in 1348 Strasbourg. In steadily more harrowing chapters, Levitin shows a thickening climate of anti-Semitism. As the bubonic plague spreads from the ports of Sicily across Europe, the Jews are accused of poisoning the water supply; whole communities of Jews are massacred. Will Gemm's experience as Johannes deaden his craving for art? That everything about the plot seems inevitable, from Johannes's dreadful martyrdom to Gemm's last-page embrace of humanism, only magnifies the tension: much of the horror of Johannes's plight, for example, comes from the audience's superior awareness of Johannes's certain doom. The author pulls off a nifty feat--she makes a low point in human history the prelude to a crescendo of idealism. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)