KING OF THE SEVENTH GRADE by Barbara Cohen

KING OF THE SEVENTH GRADE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The premise packs a wallop: hot-shot seventh grader Vic Abrams, who has abused bis Hebrew-School teacher (""as a singer, you suck"") to get out of the whole bar mitzvah rigamarole, is discovered to have a non-Jewish mother; according to Conservative doctrine, he's not a Jew--so the rabbi can't bar mitzvah him. Instead of feeling relief, Vic feels odd. When his fellow Hebrew School sufferers congratulate him, he mutters, ""I could convert."" He assures Stewie, another member of his gang, that he never minded being Jewish. Meanwhile he's shuttling back and forth between his divorced, unhelpful parents--a straight-arrow father, consumed with making money, and a tolerant, remarried mother, bent now on having a good time. Then Stewie launches an openly anti-Semitic attack on unpopular, impassive Abby Greenglass; Vic socks Stewie; the grateful Greenglasses invite him for Friday night dinner (though Vic insists, and Abby ""tactlessly"" concurs, that he would have done it for anyone); and in that expansively, unselfconsciously observant household, the question of Vic's Jewishness arises sharply. He stops in at the synagogue on a Saturday, talks to Rabbi Auerbach, takes the first tentative step toward conversion. Right along, Vic's gang has been going on shoplifting larks; now Stewie, who's apologized, pressures the others into a jewelry heist. To Vic's horror and shame, they're immediately caught; and when the rabbi is stern but forgiving (whereas others condemn or condone), Vic makes the inevitable decision to convert--in a ceremony (not burlesqued) that finds his friends giggling, his father hushing them, and the four celebrating at a deli dinner. Vic will be bar mitzvahed in turn too, with homely reverence. Cohen, indeed, almost never overdoes. For Vic, being Jewish is his identity--and it's on that basis, and by facing the issues, that the story absorbingly develops.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1982
Publisher: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard