““Some subjects are better off in silence.” That’s the philosophy of the ultra-Orthodox Chassidic Jewish community where 17-year-old Gittel Klein is preparing to graduate and then enter an arranged marriage. Separated from the secular world by her sect’s edict to “never ever trust the goyim,” independent Gittel struggles to embrace “the most important role of women” – modesty in dress and demeanor. She is plagued by memories of Devory, the adventurous best friend who died when both girls were nine. Gittel searches for a voice to release the shameful secret behind Devory’s death: the “greatest enemies always grow from within.”
Writing under a pseudonym that means woman of valor, author Chayil mines her personal experience to deliver a fascinating look into a culture so secretive that even sexual abuse goes unpunished for fear of speaking evil of other Jews. The first 44 chapters, which alternate between the pivotal childhood event and Gittel’s present day life, move briskly, fueled by dramatic tension and suspense. Chayil handles the troubling circumstances of Devory’s death with sensitivity, masterfully writing in the sincere, naive voice of nine-year-old Gittel. The pace slows significantly, though, in the remaining chapters, which describe the details of Gittel’s wedding, early married life, and her eventual act of valor.
Readers unfamiliar with Jewish culture may struggle with the abundant use of Yiddish dialect, requiring frequent flipping to the book’s comprehensive glossary. But the story is so compelling and the setting so unique that those brief detours are worth the effort.
Recommend Hush to readers drawn to the issues in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak or the atmosphere of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen.”