A debut novel that explores the connection between an Orthodox Jewish girl and Protestant boy in mid-1960s America.
Like other prosperous midcentury families, the Greenfelds move from their cramped city apartment to a leafy suburb. Fourteen-year-old Adina has always grown up in an Orthodox Jewish home, but her parents soon discover that “orthodoxy was not suited to the suburban lifestyle.” The girl tries to keep in mind her beloved grandfather’s admonition: “Jews are doves, Adina. You are a dove. The rest of the world is fishes.” But she’s intrigued by friendly, charming classmate Jack, who makes her feel welcome at her new secular school. Jack is even more interested in Adina—not just because of her beauty, but also her intelligence and ability to put him in his place. He feels drawn to the Greenfeld family, whose affection, zingy debates, good food and strong traditions contrast strongly with his own cold, distant, materialistic and superficially Christian parents. But after he gains Adina’s trust, he starts avoiding her without explanation, leaving Adina to renew her commitment to Orthodox Judaism. Years later, he contacts her with a final request, and she must decide how to respond. In her debut novel, Verhoeff skillfully depicts the affinities and clashes between cultures, and the shades of difference between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, without ever sounding like a sociology professor. The heavy emphasis on Adina’s and Jack’s attractiveness, though, actually undercuts the love story: What’s so surprising about two beautiful people falling for each other? Even Isaac, the Jewish man Adina meets in college, is “comforting” and “pleasant,” but, more to the point, also “extremely handsome. Ruggedly so.” The contrast between cold Protestants and warm Jews also seems like a bit of cliché. Nevertheless, Jack and Adina’s final scenes are compassionate, moving and insightful about the role of love in a God-centered life.
An often engaging Romeo-and-Juliet story with an unexpectedly mature and thoughtful ending.