cover image Strange Relations

Strange Relations

Sonia Levitin, . . Knopf, $15.99 (298pp) ISBN 978-0-375-93751-4

Levitin (The Goodness Gene ) offers a vivid portrayal of Chasidic culture in this intimate novel about a contemporary Los Angeles teen’s reunion with her extended Orthodox Jewish family. Having felt disconnected from her parents since her younger sister’s disappearance five years ago, 15-year-old Marne is eager to go to Hawaii to spend the summer with her Aunt Chaya’s family, even if it means putting up with their religious views and rituals. Marne looks forward to swimming in the ocean and learning to surf, but ends up spending most of her time helping overworked Aunt Chaya with her seven children and with her endless community duties as a rabbi’s wife. Some traditions practiced in the household—particularly the restrictions placed on women’s dress and demeanor—frustrate and embarrass Marne, and she finds herself in a sticky situation when a boy she meets receives a cold reception from her aunt. But Marne’s induction to the family’s strict rules also has a profound and positive effect, inspiring her to contemplate her own views of family, religion and morality. The broadening of Marne’s outlook as she comes to know and cherish her aunt, uncle and cousins is convincing. There are perhaps a few too many conflicts cluttering the storyline, but the heroine’s inner turmoil and emotional growth are skillfully and movingly wrought. Ages 12-up. (June)