The latest spunky heroine of South Asian–Jewish heritage to grace middle-grade fiction, Tara Feinstein, 12, charms readers from the get-go in this strong, funny debut.
Cheerful, sociable and a New Yorker through and through, Tara’s blessed with two best friends: Ben-o, a gentile, and Rebecca, who's Jewish. Both girls attend Hebrew School. As boys prepare for their bar mitzvahs and girls for bat mitzvahs, Tara struggles with doubts (does she believe in God?) and fears devaluing her beloved Indian heritage. When Sheila Rosenberg tells Tara she’s not a real Jew because her mother (an Indian-American convert to Judaism) wasn’t born a Jew, Tara hits back—literally. Tara looks forward to working with Ben-o in Robotics Club for seventh grade. Instead, she’s stuck with ADD-challenged Ryan Berger, whose interest is Tara, not robotics, and her comfortable relationship with Ben-o is threatened now that he seems to want to take it to the level of romance. Her simmering feud with Sheila complicates life further. Authors often mention but then shrink from exploring in depth their characters’ mixed religious heritage; it’s a sensitive subject that demands close scrutiny. Freedman bucks that trend, avoiding didacticism by portraying broader issues through Tara’s personality and unique circumstances.
As Tara learns in this skillful exploration, an important source of her special strengths—questioning spirit, empathy and strong ethical compass—is her mixed heritage. (Hindi-Yiddish glossary) (Fiction. 10-14)