My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve been reading this aloud to the girls at bedtime — it’s been touted as the Jewish Harry Potter. Really entertained by the conceit, finding it very witty…but the Jewy is bugging me! So far, the fantasy is dandy (it’s set in a Lower East Side teeming with magic) but the non-fantasy is sometimes irksome. For instance, the very first scene depicts the area around Hester Street on a Friday afternoon, bustling, everyone hurrying to get their shopping done for Shabbat…but then a character from an observant Jewish family says she’s going home to do homework. ON SHABBES? Then there’s a handwritten sign advertising magical services, written in Hebrew, so the cops won’t be able to read it…but the lingua franca of the LES was Yiddish! Hebrew was for prayer, never for conversation! Basically, I love the promise and the premise here…I’m just hoping the Jewy stuff feels less **off** as the book goes on.
Update: OK, done. It wound up scaring the CRAP out of the girls — it gets darker and darker and the ending is scary as fuck. (One word: Dybbuk. OK, two more words: TERRIFYING DYBBUK.) I do wish the book had given a better sense of workaday magic; we hear about regular people doing magic constantly, but we don’t SEE much of it — only big scary magic, especially toward the end. I loved the notion that Wall Street fat cats are trying to take the magic of the people away and corporatize it and control it and make money off it…but how does that affect individual working folks’ lives, since magic is already illegal? Unclear. I loved all the nudge-nudge-wink-wink references to actual events and groups in LES history (Pentacle Shirtwaist Factory!) — though most kids won’t get them — and I thought Lily and Sasha were terrific characters. But overall it felt a little sprawling and undisciplined to me. I’d have given it 3.5 stars if I could.