Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Inside the closed community of Borough Park, where most Chassidim live, the rules of life are very clear, determined by an ancient script written thousands of years before down to the last detail—and abuse has never been a part of it. But when thirteen-year-old Gittel learns of the abuse her best friend has suffered at the hands of her own family member, the adults in her community try to persuade Gittel, and themselves, that nothing happened. Forced to remain silent, Gittel begins to question everything she was raised to believe.
A richly detailed and nuanced book, one of both humor and depth, understanding and horror, this story explains a complex world that remains an echo of its past, and illuminates the conflict between yesterday's traditions and today's reality. -- Walker
HUSH by Eishes Chayil is one incredibly moving book. I finished it a few days ago and I admit that the story is still stuck in the forefront of my mind. I usually think it's a positive thing when I can't stop thinking about a book, and I still do because it's really a credit to the author to have a story stay with the reader. However, I found HUSH to be so disturbing, and it made me so uncomfortable, that I'm not sure that I want to keep thinking about it. Having said that, HUSH is an amazing story and one that needed to be told. It is a story that deserves to stay in our thoughts for a very long time.
I am not alone in my praise for HUSH. It has already been very well received by critics and has received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and BCCB. I would love to tell you all about HUSH; however, I think this book is best appreciated if you don't really know too much about it. I picked it up only knowing that it was about a girl who was growing up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish culture. Since I have always been interested in the Jewish faith, and especially the ultra Orthodox faith, I thought the book sounded extremely interesting. I guess I knew that the book also delved into the issue of sexual abuse; however, I really didn't know much beyond that.
While I did find this book difficult to read at times, I was pleasantly surprised by the author's honesty in telling her story -- it was so special to get an insider's view into this life. Of course, the parts of the story about abuse were horrific and very depressing for me, but this book wasn't just about abuse. It was largely about growing up in an ultra-Orthodox Chassidic community. Needless to say, I have very little in common with this culture; however, I found their beliefs and actions to be very interesting. What surprised me even more about HUSH was that parts of this book were actually entertaining, and I almost found myself almost laughing at some of the things that happened to Gittel and her family.
Despite my issues with how Gittel's community and family chose to deal with the scandals, HUSH made me see how incredibly difficult it would be for an insulated society like this one to deal with controversy. I am not making excuses because children should never have to go through any of this, but HUSH demonstrated how differently these people see the world. And while the people in this community all tried to cover-up and "hush" what happened, I think it's important to remember that this community was a loving and supportive community in many other ways.
The author of HUSH actually used a pen name Eishes Chayil which means "Woman of Worth." In the Author's Note section at the back of the book, she explains that she began writing this story when she was 23 years old, but it took her many years to process all of it and put it down on paper. Like the character in the book, she grew up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and she lived through knowing that her best friend was being molested. I commend her for telling this story and for her efforts to help children who have lived through an ordeal like this.
HUSH would make a fantastic book club selection for teens or even for mother-daughter book clubs. Besides giving the reader an insight into the ultra-Orthodox Chassidic world, this novel also deals with many sensitive, yet important, topics including sexual abuse, suicide, and depression. There are so many themes throughout this story that should be explored and discussed by teens. Even though this story takes place in an insulated community, I think this book has so many powerful messages that will resonate with teens everywhere.
HUSH is a beautifully written story that is sure to say with you for a very long time because of its disturbing subject matter. I highly recommend it.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.