cover image The Singing Mountain

The Singing Mountain

Sonia Levitin. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $17 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80809-8

Levitin (Journey to America) contributes an unusually intelligent, thought-provoking novel about faith. Mitch Green, a suburban Californian bound for UCLA in the fall, is on a summer tour of Israel with his temple's youth group when he meets someone from an Orthodox yeshiva--and decides to stay on and study at the yeshiva himself. Mitch's cousin Carlie, an orphan who is being raised by Mitch's parents, describes the reaction at home: the Greens, Reform Jews, are horrified and certain Mitch has been brainwashed. Mitch's letters, saying that before he felt ""parched"" and now feels ""nourished,"" sound to the family ""almost as if someone else were dictating [them]."" By Christmas, Carlie and her aunt are bound for Israel, to spend time with Mitch and see if they can bring him home. As they grapple with weighty issues-e.g., belief in God in the face of tragedy, and putting principles above personal relationships--Levitin's own touch is light. She maintains a remarkable evenhandedness with all her characters, major and minor, as she presents conflicting points of view without favoring any one of them or insisting that they ultimately converge. She unfolds bits of the characters' pasts with precision timing, creating little revelations that illuminate both the characters and the challenges they confront. Some of the religious matters are simplified--appropriately, given a general readership--but the fundamental issues will touch teens of all persuasions. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)