Joel is hoping for a miracle. Actually, the white Jewish boy is hoping for several.
He wishes his family could pay its bills rather than buying time by “accidentally” sending the telephone check to the water company. He wishes his father’s hands weren’t so gnarled by arthritis that it’s a struggle to pick up small objects. And he wishes no one knew his last name (which is too embarrassing to repeat here). Joel and his family are practically the only Jews in town, which makes him very nervous about the “Winter Holiday Assembly,” where they’re supposed to light the menorah in front of everyone. He suspects that—barring a miracle—the event will lead to further humiliation. (The events, sadly, are based on the author’s childhood in the 1970s.) Ben Izzy rarely mentions the race of the characters, though inferences can be made from their names. (Joel’s crush is named Amy O’Shea.) But the other characters are barely present. For chapters at a time, the only character is Joel, telling readers lengthy stories and shaggy dog jokes. He’s so entertaining that some people won’t notice when the plot stalls for pages on end, as plot is not the book’s strength. When the assembly turns into a train wreck, the scene is so over-the-top it hardly makes sense.
Plot, schmot. Readers may be so charmed by Joel that they forgive the book’s flaws and wish him a miracle. (Historical fiction. 10-15)