February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Opposing Viewpoints on YA Author’s Portrayal of Judaism | SLJ Feedback

SLJ1409w_review-feedbackThe following letter is author Laurice Elehwany Molinari’s response to SLJ’s March review of her book The Ether: Vero Rising (Zonderkidz, 2013), in which reviewer Rhona Campbell points out that one of the book’s characters, a young Jewish girl, “seems included primarily to bolster Evangelical beliefs.” 

The author responds

Vero Rising is a fiction novel about a boy’s journey of discovery as he attends guardian angel school. Vero practices the Christian faith on Earth but quickly finds his classmates include angels of other faith—reflective of the fact that angels are found in numerous religions worldwide.

The [review’s] criticism [“The portrayal of Judaism, as embodied by a young Jewish girl who explains various Christian ideas (she is regarded as an expert as a result of training for her Bat Mitzvah), seems included primarily to bolster Evangelical beliefs.”] is in reference to Ada, Vero’s friend and classmate. Ada knows a lot about angels, and she should, because angels appear so prominently in the Torah. In fact, many commonly held beliefs regarding angels derive primarily from religious texts, including some that significantly predate Christianity. Ada was included in the story to illustrate that angels appear in a worldwide religious context. Her explanations are based on ancient scriptures, which reflect beliefs shared not just by Jewish and Christian faiths but others as well. Examination of various religious texts across history, including some outside of Judeo-Christian tradition, shows that angels are truly part of a worldwide, “cross-religious” phenomena.

Vero is an inclusive novel, written for children and adults of all faiths and beliefs, featuring a subject with which many readers are already familiar.

Laurice Elehwany Molinari

The reviewer replies

I appreciate Ms. Molinari’s response to the concerns about the Jewish character, Ada, which I raised in my review. The Judeo-Christian angelology on which the book rests may indeed have root tendrils in the Torah and other ancient Jewish texts, but it is not a standard element of modern Judaism and has not been for centuries. It is inaccurate to imply that the mythology Ava declaims would have been learned by a 12-year-old in preparation for Bat Mitzvah at the Conservative shul described, unless she dabbled in Jewish mysticism on the side and thereby discovered the arcane texts Ms. Molinari references. The Torah does not contain the names, roles, history, or relationships between archangels, which Ada explicates to her fellow characters.

To this Jewish reviewer, the character of Ada smells of philo-Semitism, and few middle-grade readers will have the life experience to recognize it. Ada acts as a mouthpiece for Judaism in the magical post-life arena that is the setting for Molinari’s story. I do not find Ada’s active participation inclusive, but rather a misappropriation and misrepresentation of modern-day Jewish identity.

Rhona Campbell, school librarian, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.