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Hush by Eishes Chayil

Gittel lives in the closed Chassidic community of Borough Park in New York City.  The rules of the Chassidic community are strict and clear.  Their lives are separate from modern technologies and a modern lifestyle.  Family is to be honored and respected.  Marriages are arranged by matchmakers and parents.  Children are treasured, but live with strict limitations.  When Gittel witnesses her friend being sexually molested by her older brother, the community shuts down any mention of the situation.  When the situation progresses to a horrible end, Gittel must decide what to do and whether to betray her family and community or her friend.  Painfully, it takes Gittel years to admit what she has seen and bring it to light.  This is a remarkable book that exposes shameful secrets in the Chassidic community while equally showing the positive side of their beliefs and lifestyle. 

This is Chayil’s own story, a Chassidic Jew who also witnessed a friend’s abuse.  Through her writing she has exposed her own pain and truth.  Chayil’s writing allows all readers to respect the beliefs of this community.  Gittel’s family is warm and wonderful, the ideal family to contrast against the strict beliefs and limitations.  They fairly glow with love, the perfect foil for the other family suffering the abuse.  Chayil’s writing is subtle and solid.  Firmly grounded in reality, it depicts the community with honesty, demonstrating how rules that protect can also become rules that restrict and bind.  What is most impressive is Chayil’s ability to show that the responses from various people change when they know the truth, have seen it before, and understand there is an issue.  The establishment is not the enemy here, ignorance is.

Gittel is a character that readers see grow from a young girl to a married teen.  Through it all, she struggles with the truth and her own guilt about the situation.  Her emotions are vivid and blazing, yet they ring with truth.  Other characters in the story are just as well written, such as Gittel’s parents and husband.

A brave and amazing book, this is a glimpse for readers into a closed society written by a woman who understands it well.  It is also a call for all of us to tell the truth to shout it out in order to save those who we love who are enduring the unimaginable.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Walker Books.