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Hush, by Eishes Chayil

12 Mar

2010, Walker Books for Young Readers, ISBN 978-0802720887

Plot Summary: Hush is a fictional novel about the sexual abuse that takes place in insular Hasidic Jewish communities and how the communities cover this abuse up.

The story takes place in the Chassidic neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn, spanning the years 1999-2008. Narrated by a young Chassidic woman named Gittel, the story shifts back and forth to tell the story of Gittel and Devory, 9-year old best friends, and Gittel’s life as an 18-year old woman, becoming a wife and mother for the first time while dealing with a painful secret.

When Devory’s behavior suddenly changes, no one understands why – she acts out at school and when her brother visits home from Yeshiva, she wants to sleep at Gittel’s house. One night, Gittel sleeps over Devory’s house and witnesses Devory’s brother sexually abuse her. She is told to say nothing when she tries to tell her parents – with her limited understanding of what sex is – and the abuse continues until Devory hangs herself in Gittel’s family bathroom. Gittel’s family reacts by removing all traces of Devory’s existence, and forbids Gittel to ever speak of her again. Years later, Gittel, still haunted, struggles with reporting the crime; she is about to be married and is afraid of bringing shame on herself and her family. Will Devory’s memory ever stop haunting her?

Critical Evaluation: Much more than a tale of sexual abuse, Hush offers a glimpse into the lives of the Chassidic community. We learn how they live, what they learn, and about their family lives. It allows readers to understand people that live and work side by side with us, but who are strangers in many ways – and with this, may begin understanding.

Hush can be a difficult book to read because of the compelling portrait of sexual abuse’s effect on an insular society, poisoning it from the inside. Written by an anonymous author influenced by events in her own life, Eishes Chayil chose her pseudonym based on the Yiddish term for a woman of valour in order to step forward and pierce the veil of secrecy with which the Chassidic community surrounds itself. Teen readers should read Hush and understand what silence in any matter can do to a community.

Reviews: School Library Journal: “Family and social life within today’s Chassidic community are portrayed with affection for the warmth and the enduring values but with a clear eye for the vulnerability of the young and the hurt.”

Booklist: “In this stunning debut, Chayil (a pseudonym) takes readers into a cloistered society and exposes its secrets… this is powerful stuff and a glimpse into places not often seen.”

Awards: William C. Morris YA Debut Award Nominee (2011), Sydney Taylor Honor Book.

Reader’s Annotation: What if you had a horrible secret that no one would let you tell? What if you were told to erase your best friend’s memory from your life?

Author Information: Eishes Chayil is a pseudonym of a Chassidic author living in New Jersey and working as a journalist in Brooklyn, New York. Hush is her first novel. The Bloomsbury Kids website offers a book detail page with reviews.

Genre: Realistic fiction; abuse; families; Judaism

Booktalking Ideas: What would you do if you knew that your best friend was being abused by a family member? What if your own family told you to forget it and stay quiet? Would you go against your own family and your community to seek justice for your friend? This is what Gittel finds herself up against when she discovers that her best friend is being abused by her brother.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14-18

Challenge Issues/Defense: Sexual abuse. Defense – This happens all around us. Books like Hush help teens understand what happens, how it affects everyone around them, and helps them figure out how to cope and to take action.

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?

Hush is completely different from books I normally read, and it intrigued me. The opportunity to look at such a secretive community interested me, and I wanted to understand what this community feels they stand to gain by ignoring abuse. While I can’t say I understand the reaction to cover it up, pretend it didn’t happen, and erase any memory of the victim or the act, I understand that this community is not yet ready to reach out to outsiders.

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