Rebel Daughter

Delacorte. Feb. 2021. 400p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593125816.
Gr 8 Up–This complex novel set in the first century CE tells the story of one Jewish girl’s experiences in Jerusalem under Roman rule and during the destruction of the second temple. Esther is the well-educated, well-off daughter of a Jewish priest. She hopes to marry for love. However, the Jews rebel, the Romans are ousted, a civil war takes place, and the Romans return to burn the temple, kill or enslave most Jews, and start the Jewish diaspora. With this history as backdrop, Esther marries a man she does not love. She loses two brothers and her husband to the fighting, her parents to age, and her best friend to the fire. She and her younger brother are enslaved and brought to Rome, where a Roman ex-slave, Tiberius, rescues them. Kaufman crams in a lot of history and politics. Esther’s character growth proceeds slowly, although ultimately she protects her family at all costs. The writing is clear, smooth, and accessible, with short, fast-moving chapters. Esther’s first marriage is abrupt, with little emotional impact. One brother is an unsympathetic screw-up, and Esther’s love for him is largely told not shown, making her grief lack credulity. Her relationship with Tiberius develops believably, but the marriage happens quickly with little chance to savor it.
VERDICT An engaging story for historical fiction fans, however, romance readers may feel unsatisfied. Buy where historical and Jewish fiction are in demand.

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