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NO VACANCY by Tziporah Cohen


by Tziporah Cohen

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-77306-410-9
Publisher: Groundwood

Is it a bad thing when a Jewish girl fakes an apparition of the Virgin Mary?

Miriam, a white, Jewish 11-year-old from Manhattan, is plunked into a ramshackle motel upstate when her father loses his job. Now she’s helping them turn the dilapidated old place into a functional business. But nobody has a reason to visit Greenvale, New York (population 514), so nobody stays in the motel. Miriam’s finally settling in—she’s made friends with the Mexican American hotel cleaner and with a white girl whose grandparents own the diner next door. It’s a little uncomfortable being in an apparently all-Catholic town, but Miriam just tells people she’s a vegetarian to avoid being served bacon. That’s normal, right? And it’s probably OK to encourage people to see the face of the Virgin Mary in a rust stain at the old drive-in. After all, it’s for a good cause: The flocking faithful bring business to the diner and motel. The gentle shenanigans that ensue progress like a predictably wholesome after-school special. An anti-Semitic act shakes Miriam and encourages her to be proud of her Judaism. A crisis brings the town together, and the local priest leads the townspeople to Miriam’s support. Disappointingly, a disabled character whose initial character development feels fairly complex is reduced at the end to a teachable moment.

The protagonist’s character arc is encouraging, but alas, supporting characters come across as props.

(Fiction. 8-10)