Review by Lonnes Leloup
Philomel Books, September 2022
224 pages, Hardcover, $18.00 CAD, 978-0593525821
Ages 12 – 17
Young Adult, Contemporary
Later, I tried to explain to Rabbi Moritz why it was ironic that my horrible crime was the thing that saved the whole community. He didn’t get it, either because he was too angry, or because his head was filled with other thoughts, or because the man has no sense of humor.
I don’t think it’s funny now–it ruined my life, put me in intensive care, and humiliated me and my family on a global scale. But I found it funny at the time.
The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen, Isaac Blum’s debut novel, focuses on a pivotal moment in a young, Jewish Orthodox Hoodie Rosen’s life. Hoodie’s family, just like the rest of their community, recently moved to Tregaron, USA in the hope of setting up a new building complex to welcome and nurture a bigger Jewish population. Hoodie must navigate the highs and lows of adolescence while antisemitic sentiments begin to grow in Tregaron. Tensions reach a breaking point when Hoodie falls for Anna-Marie, the daughter of the obstinate mayor trying to keep Hoodie and his community out of town.
With his first novel, Isaac Blum, an English teacher who previously worked in yeshivas, tackles important and difficult themes through the witty perspective of a young Jewish teenager torn between loyalty to his identity and his heart’s will. Hoodie’s story, a modernized and contemporary take on the forbidden love trope, illustrates with brilliance what it means to be living in between worlds, conflicted by duties and desires. Hoodie never forsakes his ethnic or religious identities in the pursuit of love or the greater good, rather it is the adults around him that force him to choose, imposing ultimatums rooted in tradition and outdated interpretations of religious texts.
It is rare nowadays to have narratives that focus on modern religious people, and even rarer to have them focus on visibly Jewish boys. The book’s strength resides in the humour Hoodie uses to navigate tragic situations such as when his community turns against him after his friendship with Anna-Marie becomes public, or when the antisemitic attacks increase in violence. Hoodie’s perspective is refreshing, insightful, and topical. As we notice a recent uptick in hate crimes against the Jewish community in our world, Hoodie’s world reflects the same tragedies as the tensions between Tregaron’s old and new population turn deadly. This climax helps The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen deliver its most powerful message: happy endings don’t exist in a world permeated with antisemitism. Nobody is safe when we allow hate to prosper.
As a religious Jew, and someone who is constantly torn between supporting my community while opposing its most archaic views on gender equality, queer identities, and assimilation, Hoodie’s story particularly resonated with me. The dread that exists in every Jewish person’s life when faced with contemporary and rampant antisemitism was portrayed with such sincerity and vivacity by Isaac Blum. I found this novel both cathartic and incredibly soothing. Even in the darkest times, Jewish joy and humour always prevail. No matter what.
Lonnes Leloup (she/her) is a trans, Jewish, French-Canadian young adult writer and a creative writing student at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver.