The Compulsive Reader: Queen of Secrets by Jenny Meyerhoff

Friday, July 9, 2010

Queen of Secrets by Jenny Meyerhoff

Queen of Secrets tells the story of Essie Green, an orphan raised by her Jewish grandparents in a Michigan suburb. All her life, her Nana and Papa have never been religious, so when her uncle, aunt, and cousin move back to town and attempt to get them to observe the Jewish customs once more, Essie is irritated and thinks they're plain weird. It doesn't help that her cousin Micah is being ridiculed at school for wearing his kippah by Essie's new friends on the cheerleading squad and her new boyfriend Austin and the rest of the football team. Afraid of what everyone might say, Essie tries to conceal her relationship to Micah, but when the teasing escalates, she'll be forced to choose between right and wrong, family and popularity.

A loose retelling of the Book of Esther, there are plenty of secrets and deceptions in Meyerhoff's novel: Essie's grandparents don't talk about her parents at all (she grew up without even knowing what their professions were), and it is obvious once her extended family moves back to Michigan that something besides her parents' deaths tore her family apart, though no one will say what it is. Essie has her own fair share of secrets as she bites her lip at her new friends' mocking of Micah and his customs, and attempts to deceive everyone around her to become cool in their eyes. Throughout it all, she is confronted with her family's devotion to Judaism, and must attempt to find a medium between her grandfather's disgust with her heritage and her uncle's obsession with it. When it all culminates in a night that Essie bitterly regrets, she is tested to her limit, and the book wraps up rather hurriedly. Despite a quick ending though, Queen of Secrets is an interesting book about faith and loyalty, and what it means to grow up.

Cover Comments: I think this cover is rather bland, and it doesn't really depict a girl that is anything like Essie--who has curly hair and would never have a belly button piercing!

Review copy received from publisher.

One thing I really liked about this book (besides the fact that it talks a lot about my school and hometown) is that Essie is forced to deal with her own religion, a topic that is really absent in mainstream YA literature (the only book I can think of that focuses mainly on religion as a central plot line is Pure by Tera Elan McVoy, a book I love). I think this is interesting as a LOT more teens are religious than I think many author believe, yet still YA books hardly ever mention it.

What do you think--should religion be more relevant in YA lit? Would you be open to reading YA books that deal with that may conflict with your own beliefs? Would you find it interesting, or would it cause you to not pick up that book?

Let me know your thoughts!


Simply_Megan said...

I'm not religious at all, but some books that have religion in it are really good. Off the top of my head I can think of Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robine Brande and Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr. Both contain religious themes but they never preach, which is probably why I am able to read them haha.

SarahChristine said...

i think religion should be because everyone has beliefs.
and when you show your character's beliefs it goes onto a more personal level.
And even when there is a different belief going on in the book i will still read it because i'm honestly not offended by other peoples beliefs and actually almost like it when they are showing it from a different religion because i learn more than if there wasn't any religion in it.

Anonymous said...

Hell yes! Religion, no matter what you believe, is an important patty of our day-to-day lives. I've been raised in the Catholic faith and have attended Catholic school all my life, so it disappoints me to see how inaccurate the portrayal of Catholic schools are in YA books. It seems that the two extremes are the cheerleader pushing their beliefs onto everyone else or the sluts who pretend to be virginal. Neither of these are true. Few people really know what Catholic school is actually like, and that's why the stereotypes are accepted.