July 31, 2012

TURNING PAGES: Since You Left Me, Allen Zadoff

Wow. It's almost August! It's the last official month of summer reading...woe!

Kudos today to newbie teacher *Anne Boles Levy*, and to all the rest of you teacher and librarian folk going back to the grindstone, reveling in the smell of chalk (I think the last time I was in a class that used chalk was 4th grade. Maybe new whiteboard markers? Oh, technology, you have robbed...) and blank grade-books.

And to those few students who lurk at our blog - good luck this year!

Now, ONWARD, to the books!

Reader Gut Reaction: Reading a Zadoff book is like eating a really dense, chewy, slightly sweet pumpernickel... each book is a whole mouthful, and there are little bits that stick in your molars which you must tease out and chew some more to get it all down. No matter the length of a Zadoff book, they're just jam-packed with the gamut of emotions - from isolation, to humiliation, loss, grief -- and a quirky black humor underlying it. Poignant yet chuckle-producing, and lightly seasoned with hope, a Zadoff book is a meal to be savored and returned to again. Take for instance his latest, to be released August 28th, SINCE YOU LEFT ME...

Concerning Character: First, his name is Sanskrit Zuckerman. As in, the language. Middle name? Aaron. Ancient language... plus Moses' brother, and a Jewish surname. Clearly, Sanskrit is a guy who encompasses nations - though not voluntarily. While no one in his family is the least bit observant, Sanskrit is being forced to embrace all things Israel and Jewish, in order to get his grandfather's last and only gift to him - an all-or-nothing fully paid tuition at a Jewish high school. Sure, it looks great on paper, but you try being an American Jew surrounded by students from Israel who think you're spoiled and soft. Now, add to that being the sole unbeliever on campus, and Sanskrit's school is the loneliest place on the planet. His ex-girlfriend -- well, she was his girlfriend in the second grade until she inexplicably quit speaking to him -- is an ice queen he only refers to by her initials -- because the thought of her makes him bleed. His ex-best-friend, Herschel, went to Israel and turned into someone else entirely - someone who wears the full Orthodox black uniform and ear-locks. Someone he doesn't know at all. Sanskrit is loud and proud with his unbelief but since Herschel's defection, sometimes, it doesn't feel worth getting up in the morning.

Of course, Sanskrit doesn't exist in isolation - he has a younger sister, who manages her world fairly successfully, while lambasting him with sarcasm and extorting younger sister "gimme, or I'll tell" bribes; an intelligent but vague father, for whom the BIG thing in life is not his kids, but The Big One -- that apocryphal earthquake which will one day devastate the West Coast; a lithe, yoga fit, Zen, harmonious, and utterly inattentive and unfit mother, often found standing on her head, channeling a brief new enthusiasm for a style of yoga, a chiropractic theory, a macrobiotic diet -- and this week, a man. It's apparent she's got some celestial connection with her guru, since now she wants to go and live with him ...

Prize given: the Zuckermans, for the most dysfunctional Jewish family this week. No wonder Sanskrit feels like there's not a lot in the world to hold onto. Everybody's headed for the exit in his life - whether physically or emotionally or mentally. And the biggest leave-r? Hasn't been seen on earth for a couple thousand years. And what has HE done for anyone lately???

Look, Sanskrit doesn't want your pity. He just wants to be left alone to figure out some of the big questions in life -- the largest of which, currently, is how to extricate himself from the lie he told to get out of being pitied... because now nobody is leaving him alone. While it might feel good to be a part of the community - the real lie just might be in acceptance. Because, everything has a cost...

Recommended for Fans Of...sort of more literary, thoughtful YA novels, that wrestle with deeper topics, such as: GODLESS, by Pete Hauptman, OyMG, by Amy Fellner Dominy, or ONCE WAS LOST, by Sara Zarr.

Cover Chatter: Do I immediately get a fix on exits, from this evocative cover. Why, yes, I do. Well done, book designers. This book has appeal for both guys and girls, because the cover remains neutral, despite the narrator. Please, book designers for books with female narrators: follow suit.

After August 28, you can find SINCE YOU LEFT by Allen Zadoff at online and independent bookstores near you!

1 comment:

Sarah Stevenson said...

It IS a good cover. It sounds like a great premise, too--complex and with interesting characters.

(Just as a side note--my high school was public and kinda po' so we definitely had some chalkboards still kicking around...)