CHERNOWITZ by Fran Arrick


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A one-issue but lifelike and involving novel about what happens when a sadistic school bully launches a campaign against a Jewish classmate. At first Bobby Cherno is subjected only to Sundback's taunts in English class, but the known trouble-maker gradually escalates the harassment--with a burning cross, a folded swastika drawing as Cherno's newsboy ""tip,"" and another one painted on the Cherno family car. Worse, Sundback involves the other ninth-grade boys, so that Bobby is ostracized by all of them, and even Brian Denny greets him on the school bus with ""Move over, Jew bastard, you take up too much room."" This from a former best friend, and the fact that Bobby hasn't one defender, is a little hard to accept--it might be more believable if we knew something about Brian and had a glimpse of Sundback at work on the others. However, Brian's overall behavior--avoiding or taunting Bobby when with the gang, calling him as if nothing had happened when Sundback is out of town--is all too recognizable, and Arrick's general picture of mass adolescent cruelty expressed in anti-Semitism is similarly convincing. Things come to a head when Sundback, on his motorcycle, runs down the Cherno cat. Bobby, too angry now to be scared, sets out coolly to frame the other boy by planting his own new radio in Sundback's locker. This works: Sundback is expelled from school and beaten by his father; but Bobby then feels so guilty about punishing him for the wrong crime that he confesses the whole nightmarish story to his parents and then his high school principal. Her response is an assembly showing Holocaust films, which horrify most of the kids but prove to Bobby that Sundback himself is unredeemable. Arrick doesn't provide much insight into the psychology or dynamics of anti-Semitic behavior, but she makes the occurrence seem appallingly possible, and she effectively fastens kids' identification on its victimized but not defeated target.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0451162536
Publisher: Bradbury