Sanskrit Aaron Zuckerman is sick of a lot of things. He’s sick of people getting his name wrong: “When someone is looking in my direction and choking on a word, they’re almost always searching for me. Or they have a piece of corned beef stuck in their throat. It’s me or a choking incident.”
He’s sick of his best friend’s sudden onset of piety: “Hershel used to hate Jewish school as much as I did. That was before he went to Israel and got flipped. That’s what we call it when kids visit Israel and find God. One look at the Western Wall, and they think they’re Maimonides.”
He’s sick of Barry Goldwasser: “What’s worse is that he knows I can’t stand him, but he doesn’t care. He’s one of those guys who likes you even when you don’t like him. Such is the incredible generosity of spirit by which he lives. It’s nauseating.”
Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on 'Demon Catchers of Milan.'
But most of all, he’s sick of his mother’s inability to remember anything about what’s going on in his life—especially considering that she’s never once missed one of her many yoga classes! So, when she doesn’t show up a yet another school function—a meeting that has a direct impact on his college future—he snaps, and does an exceedingly stupid thing: he tells everyone that she’s been in a horrible car accident.
Of course, if he’d just come clean about the lie, it’s likely that it would all blow over quickly. But, as it happens, it’s not so easy to do that. Especially when the school starts sending him chocolate-filled gift baskets and his ex-girlfriend (they went out for a week in second grade) suddenly notices him again. Sure, it’s a plotline straight out of an episode of Saved By the Bell, but it isn’t the plotline that makes Allen Zadoff's Since You Left Me special: it’s Sanskrit’s voice. As he lies and lies and lies, as he works through his heartache, deals with his family and comes to terms with his feelings about religion and responsibility, his voice is so snarkily hilarious* that you’ll laugh through all of the painful moments. At least, I did.
OK, you say, “Gotcha. Weakish premise, outstanding voice, wicked funny. What about the characters?” Sanskrit, himself, is exactly as frustrating and contradictory as you’d expect: self-absorption, the very trait in his mother that makes him so crazy, is one of his most pronounced characteristics. (For instance, Hershel’s new religiosity drives him bananas... but does he ever stop to wonder what prompted it?) His mother, too, for all of her flaws—and, wow, she has them—reads like a real human being, someone struggling to find her own place in the world as an individual, rather than as a mother.** Sanskrit’s younger sister, Sweet Caroline, is both an evil genius and a scared 12-year-old who doesn’t want her life to change.
The realism of the ending may be divisive—Sanskrit ultimately exhibits unhinted-at reserves of selflessness, maturity and thoughtfulness—but the hopeful note worked for me. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes over with other readers.
*In only including those three quotes, I was being extremely restrained: I highlighted a good three-quarters of the book.
**That doesn’t mean I’d want to spend any time with her. At all. She’s needy, selfish and mega-New Agey. But she’s also believable and, to a degree, sympathetic.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.