Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Review: Hush,by Eishes Chayil (2010, Walker Books for Young Readers)

Recommended for ages 14+.

What if you had a horrible secret that no one would let you tell? What if you were told to erase your best friend’s memory from your life, but never told why?
Hush is a fictional novel about the sexual abuse that takes place in insular Hasidic Jewish communities and how the communities cover this abuse up.
The story takes place in the Chassidic neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn, spanning the years 1999-2008. Narrated by a young Chassidic woman named Gittel, the story shifts back and forth to tell the story of Gittel and Devory, 9-year old best friends, and Gittel’s life as an 18-year old woman, becoming a wife and mother for the first time while dealing with a painful secret.
When Devory’s behavior suddenly changes, no one understands why – she acts out at school and when her brother visits home from Yeshiva, she wants to sleep at Gittel’s house. One night, Gittel sleeps over Devory’s house and witnesses Devory’s brother sexually abuse her. She is told to say nothing when she tries to tell her parents – with her limited understanding of what sex is – and the abuse continues until Devory hangs herself in Gittel’s family bathroom. Gittel’s family reacts by removing all traces of Devory’s existence, and forbids Gittel to ever speak of her again. Years later, Gittel, still haunted, struggles with reporting the crime; she is about to be married and is afraid of bringing shame on herself and her family. Will Devory’s memory ever stop haunting her?
Much more than a tale of sexual abuse, Hush offers a glimpse into the lives of the Chassidic community. We learn how they live, what they learn, and about their family lives. It allows readers to understand people that live and work side by side with us, but who are strangers in many ways – and with this, may begin understanding.
Hush can be a difficult book to read because of the compelling portrait of sexual abuse’s effect on an insular society, poisoning it from the inside. Written by an anonymous author influenced by events in her own life, Eishes Chayil chose her pseudonym based on the Yiddish term for a woman of valour in order to step forward and pierce the veil of secrecy with which the Chassidic community surrounds itself. Teen readers should readHush and understand what silence in any matter can do to a community.
Hush has received the William C. Morris YA Debut Award Nominee (2011) and has been designated a Sydney Taylor Honor Book.
Eishes Chayil is a pseudonym of a Chassidic author living in New Jersey and working as a journalist in Brooklyn, New York. Hush is her first novel. The Bloomsbury Kids website offers a book detail page with reviews.

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