Genre: Contemporary fiction, Jewish
Setting: Chicago, Illinois. November 14 to 17, 2006
Narrator: Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee, a 10-year-old student at Aptakisic Junior High, who may or may not be the messiah.
First line(s): “There is damage. There was always damage and there will be more damage, but not always.”
Quick summary: Gurion is a brilliant and devout Israelite who has been kicked out of three Jewish schools, and is now in the Cage, a program for disruptive and violent students at his new secular school. Over the course of four days, he falls in love with a girl named Eliza June Watermark, wrestles with his destiny, and attempts to overthrow “the Arrangement” (the teachers and jocks), with the help of his friends in the Cage and his army of Torah scholars.
How did I feel about the character(s)? Gurion is a piece of work, that’s for sure. Spouting off dialogue that makes him seem closer to 30 than 10, he has a lot of expectations heaped onto him. His fellow scholars call him Rabbi, his friends in the Cage look to him as their leader, and he himself suspects (and hopes) he is the messiah. Gurion is tough and more than willing to fight for what he thinks is right, but he can also be uncertain and will analyze the actions of himself and others to an often excruciating degree. I wouldn’t say I agree with many of his actions, but he is definitely a good talker and explains himself well.
Did anything surprise me? Not to ruin anything, but there was a moment 160 pages from the end where I might have audibly gasped while reading on the bus. Let’s just say it was near the start of the Gurionic War and it had to do with Boystar. Yikes. Really, though, I was very surprised by the seriousness of Gurion’s opinion of himself. I really didn’t expect that level of follow-through.
Other thoughts? I think the book’s length has less to say about the author than it does about Gurion. This is his story, and he’s going to tell it how he wants. The book covers only four days, but is a THOUSAND pages long. To say that he dissects every day to its smallest detail is an understatement. Some of that slows down the pace a bit, but the engaging dialogue between the pre-teens makes up for it. He calls the book his scripture, but it really acts more as his defense, and he needs every bit of it.
Who do I recommend it to? This is probably obvious, but anyone who likes the work of Jonathan Safran Foer, particularly Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, would be remiss to pass this by. Gurion’s serious precociousness reminded me a lot of Oskar, and both characters are Jewish.
Why did I read it? I’m all for books about wiser-than-their-years kids. One about a boy who legitimately thinks he is the messiah kicked the interest up a notch. I also liked the idea that part of the story is told through letters, e-mails, and transcripts.
Do I like the cover? Definitely. The book was originally released in five different hardcovers, and I received the white one. The design is simple, but made elegant with plain type and gold foil. It still catches my eye when I see it on a shelf.
How long did it take to finish? 11 months and 20 days, but that’s seriously skewed. I bought the hardcover version in January and read it fairly consistently until March, but the size just got annoying. Then, in November, I discovered that it had been released for Kindle, so I was finally able to finish it!