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Rachel thought she was grown up enough to accept that no one is perfect. Her parents argue, her grandmother has been acting strangely, and her best friend doesn't want to talk to her. But none of that could have prepared her for what she overheard in her synagogue's sanctuary.

Now Rachel's trust in the people she loves is shattered, and her newfound cynicism leads to reckless rebellion. Her friends and family hardly recognize her, and worse, she can hardly recognize herself. But...

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Rachel thought she was grown up enough to accept that no one is perfect. Her parents argue, her grandmother has been acting strangely, and her best friend doesn't want to talk to her. But none of that could have prepared her for what she overheard in her synagogue's sanctuary.

Now Rachel's trust in the people she loves is shattered, and her newfound cynicism leads to reckless rebellion. Her friends and family hardly recognize her, and worse, she can hardly recognize herself. But how can the adults in her life lecture her about acting with kavanah, intention, when they are constantly making such horribly wrong decisions themselves? This is a witty, honest account of navigating the daunting line between losing innocence and entering adulthood—all while figuring out who you really want to be.

Winner of the 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This witty but unsettling coming-of-age story from National Book Award– finalist Heiligman (Charles and Emma) traces 15-year-old Rachel Greenberg’s fall from innocence after a series of betrayals leaves her angry and confused. Rachel’s life is in upheaval: her parents’ once-solid marriage is dissolving and her best friend is experimenting with drugs and sex. But Rachel is hit hardest when she catches her hero, Rabbi Cohn, having sex in the sanctuary with a young bride-to-be. Feeling like she has no one to turn to, Rachel enters a downward spiral of her own. She begins a tentative romance with a childhood friend, but she isn’t fully able to sort matters out until she starts focusing on tikkun olam, the concept of repairing a damaged world. Although the onslaught of disasters that pile up for Rachel get to be a bit much, and her final confrontation with the rabbi comes off as slightly artificial, Heiligman nails Rachel’s reeling emotions as she tries to restore her faith and find answers and redemption. Ages 14–up. Agent: Ken Wright, Writers House. (Aug.)
VOYA - Kevin Beach
The author of the YALSA award-winning nonfiction book, Charles And Emma (Henry Holt, 2009/Voya December 2008), has created another thought-provoking title, this one fiction. The fragile psyche of "good girl" Rachel, already tenuous at best, is instantly shattered when she overhears her beloved rabbi committing adultery in the darkened sanctuary of the synagogue. It is the last straw for her, since her parents argue constantly, her beloved grandmother is slipping into the throes of Alzheimer's, and her lifelong best friends are seemingly leaving her behind. Armed with a newfound cynicism, Rachel goes on a binge of reckless rebellion that includes cursing in the presence of teachers, sassing her parents, and disrespecting the rabbi. She struggles with the Jewish tenet of kavanah, or intention, and knows deep down she is behaving irresponsibly, but sees everyone else in her life being hypocritical. It is often hard to sympathize with Rachel when she immaturely retaliates against her friends to an excessive degree, but eventually, partly due to her positive attempts at assisting a poor child in an afterschool program, she comes around and courageously confronts and consoles everyone in her life to make amends. There are some rough sequences in the book that are intended for a mature reader, but they will be rewarded with some poignant explorations into the mind of a bright, but troubled, teenage girl who has lost her support system. The author is a veteran of more than twenty books for children. This is her first intended for a more mature readership. Reviewer: Kevin Beach
Kirkus Reviews
Shockingly, Rachel overhears her rabbi having sex in the sanctuary of her synagogue before confirmation class. Unnerved and sickened, she doesn't know whom to tell. Recognition that a man she's always admired and trusted is imperfect, along with tension in her parents' marriage and an impossibly wide chasm between herself and her friend Alexis, make Rachel's moral compass spin out of control. She lets the rabbi's bad-boy son, Adam, talk her into losing her "pot virginity." Her lifelong friend and current crush, Jake, saves her from making a spectacle of herself. Heiligman's ear for teen dialogue and situational humor is particularly keen here, as Rachel goes from thinking she's not stoned to a declaration that "pot = truth serum." When Rachel starts shoplifting with Alexis, Jake suggests that she follow Rabbi Cohn's advice and atone for her transgressions. "Rabbi Cohn? Fuck Rabbi Cohn! Jake! I heard him screwing someone on the bima. He's a terrible person!" Rachel's path to understanding what it means to act with intention winds through a brief stint as a tutor to a special needs boy, past revelations about her parents, and finally to forgiveness. Lessons learned, the plot wraps up a little too neatly. The story is framed by the adult Rachel looking back on the events. A modestly daring coming-of-age tale with a (presumably) unintentionally preachy tone. (Fiction. 14 & up)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Booklist, August 1, 2012:
“The fastmoving, powerful narrative in Rachel’s present-tense voice will easily draw teens, not only with its dark drama, but also with the spot-on teen banter and wry viewpoint.”
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—After discovering her beloved rabbi having sex in the temple with a young woman who isn't his wife, Rachel, 16, begins to question her faith. At the same time, a budding romance with Jake is threatened by her confusing relationship with bad-boy Adam, who happens to be the rabbi's son; her relationship with her best friend, Alexis, is falling apart; her parents' marriage is unraveling; and her grandmother's health is rapidly failing. As a result of mounting pressure, Rachel shatters her "good girl" image. On a shopping trip, she drops items into Alexis's bag and lets her friend take the fall for shoplifting. In the aftermath, Rachel realizes that she must tell the truth. The theme of taking responsibility for one's self is prevalent throughout the novel, yet subtle enough not to put off teens. Another valuable lesson to be gleaned is that people are imperfect. Heiligman's concise sentences coupled with realistic teen dialogue, humor, emotional highs and lows, and risky behavior (there are a few scenes involving sexual behavior and drug use) make this a fast-moving and engaging read. Although Yiddish/Hebrew terms appear throughout, readers can easily follow the plot without prior understanding of them.—Nicole Knott, Watertown High School, CT
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375868610
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 8/14/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

DEBORAH HEILIGMAN's most recent book, Charles and Emma, won numerous awards including a Printz Honor and received five starred reviews. She lives in New York City with her family.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


“I am so out of here!” I yell, letting the door slam behind me. They’re too busy fighting to notice I’m gone, I’m sure. In an hour, when it’s time to drive me to temple, they’ll be looking for me—“Rachel? Rachel?” Yeah, guys, remember me?

God. Could they have been any more awful to each other at dinner? I inhaled my food so fast I didn’t taste a bite. A pasta and peas vacuum cleaner.

I run and run until I pretty much can’t breathe. I’m sure I’m going to puke. What is the opposite of a vacuum cleaner? I slow way down so I don’t become whatever that is. Catch my breath. Yeah, walking might be a better idea.

I am so sick of their stupid fights, I don’t know what to do. Maybe I’ll talk to the rabbi about my parents.

Middle-aged, nerdy, bushy-bearded, potbellied, Jewish Santa Claus–looking Rabbi Cohn. Yup. He’s just that wise, kind, brilliant. If anyone can make me feel better, it’s him. He might be the most perfect human being on the planet.

I walk through the parking lot to the back door, but it’s still locked. It is early—forty-five minutes before class is supposed to start. So I go around to the front, pull open the heavy wooden door. The lobby is empty, but the lights are on. I hope he’s here early tonight, in the sanctuary like he sometimes is before class, getting the Torah ready for the Saturday service.

But the sanctuary is dark, quiet, empty.

Oh well. It’ll be good to have time to myself. I don’t turn on the light; I want the dark. I run my hand along the top of the back row. The feel of the smooth, polished wood is soothing. I sit down a few seats in from the door and just breathe.

What would it be like if they got divorced? They never used to fight. Alexis always said my parents were the happiest couple in the world. Now they seem absolutely miserable. With no brothers or sisters to stick with me, I can see myself as a little Rachel ball being ping-ponged back and forth between them. Or, worse, maybe, left with just one of them, like Alexis.

Alexis. God. Ever since she came back from her dad’s, a diamond stud in her nose, her black curls that used to be just like mine turned into bleached-blond spikes, smoking cigarettes and weed, bragging about having sex with her twenty-year-old boyfriend, I’ve felt . . . abandoned. Sometimes she is the same smart, funny, loving-me-better-than-anyone best friend, but then without any warning she’ll get distant and cool. She is definitely in charge of our relationship now. I have no idea what I can talk to her about and what I can’t.

Every time I try to talk to her about my parents, she puts that wall up. I haven’t even tried to ask her about Jake. She’d just make a crack about my being young.

Oh God. I need to stop thinking. I need just to BE. In my peaceful sanctuary. I have so many good memories of this place—and one sad one.

Grandpa’s coffin right in front of the bima. I can still see it, in my mind’s eye, though I try not to. God it was an awful day. But the rabbi was perfect. Right before the funeral service, the family met in his office. He pinned ripped black ribbons onto our clothes—the sign that we were in mourning. Spoke about what a great man my grandpa was, how he had lived a happy life with Grandma. And then, as we were walking out of his office, the rabbi said, quietly, just to me, “He was so proud of you, Rachel,” and I burst into tears. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

As I sit here with my head back, staring at the ceiling—or what I can see of it with the lights off—I try to think what the rabbi would say about my parents. I try to channel his wisdom, but instead of channeling anything, I fall asleep.

I wake up because I hear noises. I am not alone.

What am I hearing? Small, soft sounds. Whispers. I slowly open my eyes, wait for them to adjust to the darkness. I sit up and look around. But I don’t see anyone. For some reason I know not to stand up, cough, make myself known.

Then the sounds start getting louder. I can’t quite tell what they are—or I am not ready to admit it. It isn’t exactly people talking, but I can tell there are two people. A low voice, and a higher voice. Groans. Sighs. Moans.

Holy crap. Who is it? Who could it be? Having sex in the sanctuary! For God’s sake! It seems like the sounds are coming from the bima—the rabbi’s bima—where he leads services; where the birthday kids go up for their blessing every month, the rabbi holding his hands above them, fingers spread to let in God; where I stood in front of the congregation almost three years ago when I was thirteen with my mother and grandmother as we passed the Torah from generation to generation.

It is so tacky, so sacrilegious.

I am dying to know who it is.

And then I hear them. Two words. Just two words. And the instant I hear them, those two words change everything I know to be true. Those two words become my personal torture, the hot secret I will carry with me like the burning coal that singed the tongue of toddler Moses.

And then she says them again:


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2013

    This book

    I love his book so much. You have rachel parents marriage falling apart. Her grandmother is sick. Her betfriend i no really her best friend. The guy she loves is kinda goin all bipolar. And her idol, the person she has he highest respect for(the rabbi) has sex on the bima with a woman who is about to get married.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2012

    This novel had me hooked from the start. The author looks at the

    This novel had me hooked from the start. The author looks at the fallout for a teenage girl who confronts an ugly truth: all adults—including a much respected rabbi—are flawed, full of sins and secrets. In the aftermath of this discovery, Rachel has to figure out whom to trust and the boundaries of her own code of ethics. What makes this novel work for me is its authentic and often funny voice. The author captures how teens think and talk with precision, and her story raises some big and important questions. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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