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.
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.
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.
"This story, dealing as it does with guilt and God, is about a journey as brave as Huck Finn's, as difficult as Holden Caulfield's, as stark as any I've read." --Anne Roiphe, Los Angeles Times Book Review"Wonderful . . . sheds light on two intriguing mysteries: life within an ultra-Orthodox Jewish communiy and the bittersweet passage through female adolescence." --Hilma Wolitzer, Newsday"An assured, smoothly written book, narrated in a muted voice that seems to whisper secrets into the reader's ear." --The New York Times Book Reveiw"Compelling throughout . . . we don't want to leave Rachel without knowing everything that happens to her for the rest of her life." --San Francisco Chronicle