Sons of the 613

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Isaac's parents have abandoned him for a trip to Italy in the final days before his bar mitzvah. And even worse, his hotheaded older brother, Josh, has been left in charge. An undefeated wrestler, MMA fighter, and bar brawler, Josh claims to be a "Son of the 613"—a man obedient to the six hundred and thirteen commandments in the Tanakh—and he has the tattoo to prove it. When Josh declares that there is more to becoming a man than memorization, the mad "quest" begins for Isaac. From ...

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Sons of the 613

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Isaac's parents have abandoned him for a trip to Italy in the final days before his bar mitzvah. And even worse, his hotheaded older brother, Josh, has been left in charge. An undefeated wrestler, MMA fighter, and bar brawler, Josh claims to be a "Son of the 613"—a man obedient to the six hundred and thirteen commandments in the Tanakh—and he has the tattoo to prove it. When Josh declares that there is more to becoming a man than memorization, the mad "quest" begins for Isaac. From jumping off cliffs and riding motorcycles, to standing-up to school bullies and surviving the potentially fatal Final Challenge, Josh puts Isaac through a punishing gauntlet that only an older brother could dream up. But when Isaac begins to fall for Josh's girlfriend, Leslie, the challenges escalate from bad to worse in this uproarious coming-of-age comedy.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Adult author Rubens (The Sheriff of Yrnameer) channels 1980s teen movies in his outlandish YA debut about what happens when the parents are away. Isaac, a superb student, loyal Dungeons and Dragons player, and one of the few Jews in his small Midwestern town, fails to tell his parents that his Hebrew tutor has neglected to show up for weeks. He's thus woefully unprepared for his bar mitzvah, and when his parents travel to Italy, they leave him in the hands of his comically terrifying older brother, Josh: jock, bar brawler, and "SuperJew" (the kind that wears a skull-and-crossbones yarmulke). Josh decides that Isaac needs a "real" education, and they embark on a series of adventures designed to make Isaac a man, from trips to bars to forced camping excursions. Isaac recounts his torturous "quest" with all the neuroses and self-pity of a middle-grade Woody Allen, and while the story sometimes falters under the weight of its conceit, the dark humor will keep readers laughing. Despite a jarringly downbeat ending, Rubens creates a funny, frank portrayal of adolescent humiliation and the trouble with older brothers. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"This is a book every bar-mitzvah boy will want to steal . . . Everyone should read it the moment he becomes a man."
Kirkus, starred review

"Rubens creates a funny, frank portrayal of adolescent humiliation and the trouble with older brothers."
Publishers Weekly

"Rubens neatly gets inside Isaac's head, and although there's something to offend almost everyone here, there's also plenty to think—and laugh—about as well."

"Rubens captures the nerdy geekiness of middle-school-aged boys in short and snappy, cleverly formatted chapters rich with sarcasm, humor, and pathos."
School Library Journal

VOYA - Sharon Blumberg
This realistic fiction novel opens with the protagonist, Isaac, attending a Bar Mitzvah of one of his peers; however, this is no normal Bar Mitzvah. If you imagine the things that could go wrong in a Bar Mitzvah—they do. Eric Weinberg messed up big time as he read religious scripture in front of family and friends. Isaac becomes horrified after witnessing Eric's unfortunate spectacle. Isaac's Bar Mitzvah is in two weeks, and he feels unprepared. Even worse, his parents have to go to Italy for the next two weeks, so they ask his older, hotheaded brother, Josh, to take care of Isaac and his younger sister, Lisa. Soon, Josh turns this major responsibility into a quest. As Josh trains Isaac for his Bar Mitzvah, he puts his younger brother through emotional and physical trials. Isaac could probably rebel, but he chooses not to, for various reasons. The Bar Mitzvah is a rite of passage in the Jewish religion. It is easy for young adults to identify with similar customs that prevail within different cultures and religions. This sexual-identity, coming-of-age, dark comedy could easily turn into a major motion picture. It is a novel for those twelve and up. The reader should have a box of tissue nearby for the conclusion. Reviewer: Sharon Blumberg
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
Michael Rubens has written a fast-paced, engaging, funny novel that is a model of contradictions. This is supposed to be the story of Isaac Kaplan becoming a bar mitzvah, but the ritual is incidental to the story. In fact, religion is negligible to the plot. Isaac's service is three weeks away and his Hebrew tutor has been AWOL for a while, a fact that he has not shared with his parents. His parents have left on a trip to Italy, leaving Isaac's nineteen year old brother, Josh, in charge of two children and the household. Josh is a college drop-out, a wrestling star with some king-sized anger issues, and a complete inability to control his own behavior. It is impossible for me to believe that even parents in deep denial would take off, leaving an emotionally volatile teenager in charge with only one contractual agreement: no parties. In the two weeks that Josh is in charge, he takes it upon himself to give his younger brother a whole new definition of manhood, including bar-hopping, visits to his stripper girlfriend, and, of course, a slam-bang party. The fact that a thirteen year old easily passes into adult establishments is another serious problem, and requires major suspension of belief. In fact, Rubens' book most closely resembles the 1991 movie, Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, with escalation of calamities that seem to escape the attention of any responsible adult in a hundred mile radius. There is no shortage of rough language and some situations involving the strip club makes this book a poor choice for younger readers. However, the thirteen year old narrator will turn off older teens, leaving this misadventure in a no-man's land of age recommendation. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
Kirkus Reviews
This is a book every bar-mitzvah boy will want to steal. "What's the first thing you say up there onstage during your bar mitzvah?" asks Josh. Josh is holding his brother Isaac over his head. Josh is taking a break from his wrestling scholarship at NYU and taking care of Isaac while their parents are in Italy. Isaac is supposed to say, "Today, I am a man." They both think that's pretty stupid. "Are you a man?" Josh asks. Isaac: "" Josh: "No, you're not. You're still a boy." This may be the least interesting statement in the book, because every bar-mitzvah boy already knows it. But no parent will ever give this book as a bar-mitzvah gift because of the bar fights, the strippers and the vomit. Josh has decided to turn his brother into a man, and he's decided to do it in the three weeks before Isaac turns 13. Isaac will meet Josh's friends: strippers, an African-American pool player in a porkpie hat and Patrick the Meth-Dealing Punk. Parents will expect a bar-mitzvah book to inspire their child, teach him something and make him proud to be Jewish. Surprisingly, this novel accomplishes two out of three. This book won't make readers proud to be Jewish. It will make them proud to be a pool player in a porkpie hat, a tattooed punk or anyone who survives all the way to 13. Everyone should read it the moment he becomes a man. (Fiction. 13-17)
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Isaac Kaplan's Bar Mitzvah is fast approaching. In just three short weeks, he is slated for the ceremony that will formally declare him to be a man. Unfortunately, the tutor employed to school Isaac in Hebrew has failed to show up for the regularly scheduled sessions, a detail that Isaac has neglected to disclose to his parents. Now they inform him of their plans to spend two weeks in Italy, leaving his older brother in charge. It is up to Josh, a monstrous hulklike figure who has his own anger-management issues and who mysteriously returned home after one and a half semesters at NYU, to care for his younger sibling while their parents are away. Josh's preparations for his geeky younger brother's rite of passage are not the traditional tutoring sessions. Instead they include intense fitness conditioning, sleeping each night in a tent, and forays into bars and strip joints. Events are further complicated by Isaac's infatuation with Josh's friend Lesley and the uneasy tension among the three. With Lesley, Isaac experiences his first real crush and, eventually, his first heartbreak. He learns to confront his fears, including the school bully, and discover for himself what it means to be a man. "'Are you afraid of him?' I think about that. Am I afraid of him? Not anymore." Rubens captures the nerdy geekiness of middle-school-aged boys in short and snappy, cleverly formatted chapters rich with sarcasm, humor, and pathos.—Barbara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547612164
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/11/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 370,772
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

MICHAEL RUBENS was a producer for several years for the award-winning Daily Show with Jon Stewart, writing and directing field pieces with Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry, Samantha Bee, Ed Helms and other Daily Show correspondents. In addition to his work with the Daily Show, Michael has also been a host, writer, and producer of several programs on the Travel Channel, including Eclipse Chasers: Ghana and Drew Carey’s Sporting Adventures: World Cup. Michael has also written and produced for CNN, Oxygen and other networks. He has appeared as a guest commentator on VH1’s infamous celebrity-bashing programs. His first novel, The Sheriff of Yrnameer , was published last year. This is his first book for young adults. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 19, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The first thing that I absolutely can say about the novel, Sons

    The first thing that I absolutely can say about the novel, Sons of the 613 by author Michael Rubens is that I judged the book by its cover. I know, one of the worst things a reader can do, but at the same time it did stir up some curiosity in me. The image of a boy being punched in the face made me smirk and of course, I wanted to know more. After reading the description, I wanted to read because one thing caught my eye: MMA. I mean, at the time, I had been a bit upset that mixed martial arts is barely in any novels in the YA universe and that if it is mentioned, it’s done improperly—so Sons of the 613 was definitely a novel that I was looking forward to reading. After reading the opening chapter that was comedic and insightful as to what the rest of the novel would hold, I already knew that Sons of the 613 would be a read that I wouldn’t forget.

    Sons of the 613 is a novel that focuses on twelve year old, main character Isaac who is preparing himself for his bar mitzvah. With it being only a few short weeks away and having seen one go terribly wrong, Isaac is growing more and more hesitant towards the idea of having a bar mitzvah of his own. It’s only when his parents jet off to Italy and leave his older brother Josh in charge, that he learns that he has no say in the idea of having or not having a bar mitzvah and Josh takes it to himself to prepare and make Isaac a man. Josh, being a stereotypical badass, seems untouchable; He was a high school wrestler, he does participate in MMA, has left a trail of broken hearts behind him and seems to hate Isaac—but what truly makes him a man (according to both him and his tattoo) is that he is a “Son of the 613”.  Josh forces Isaac to learn more than just memorizing verses for his bar mitzvah and in doing so the short weeks prior to his bar mitzvah are filled up with Josh’s “how to become a man” agenda. Isaac finds himself jumping off cliffs, firing guns, going to strip clubs and bars and begins to fall in love with Josh’s (almost?) girlfriend who gives him a makeover.  Sons of the 613 is a story that focuses on Isaac’s journey to becoming a man, but also on how he manages to become more than the boy he is at the beginning of the novel all the while patching up his tarnished relationship with his older brother.

    I’ll admit that at the start of the novel, all I wanted was for the story to pick up the pace and introduce me to Isaac’s older brother and his “quest”. By the time I did get to meet Josh, I have to admit that at first I had my doubts, but when he began Isaac’s quest, I found myself laughing out loud throughout the novel. Not only does the story hold tons of comedic dialogue, but it was some of the things that Josh did in the novel that had me thinking a lot of myself and if some of the situations at hand were me and my younger sister. While I wouldn’t be using so many profanities or be sending my sister on a “quest” to become a man, there was one scene in particular where Josh ends up beating up one of the bullies after they completely humiliate and insult Isaac. In that one scene, I kinda saw myself as Josh absolutely beat up the bully (and I personally think that Josh did it for Isaac, despite what Isaac thinks in the novel) and all the things he said to the boy afterward.

    Part of Isaac’s “quest” in the novel, is learning how to fight with his older brother, one of the more focused on parts in those scenes were the wrestling scenes. I used to wrestle and I remembered how much I sucked at it when I first started, all the little mistakes I saw Isaac make were totally realistic and again the little taunts that Josh would make would have me dying from laughter. While the MMA portion found in the description wasn’t really focused on as much as I was hoping it would be, the novel did show that Josh has a lot of friends ranging from drug dealers to strippers to digital designers and they do have their moments in the novel where they aren’t as worthless as they first seem.

    Since the novel is from the point of a twelve year old boy, I suppose I should have expected that when Isaac’s thoughts at, say, the strip club I would end up uncomfortable as a female reader. And at the mention of things like the one awkward situation Isaac had when waking up in the morning and just how a guy views breasts and all the little things it does to their brains—I was kinda putting the novel down for a moment just to shiver and continue on with the plot. While there are a ton of profanities and tons of violence, the one thing that I loved about the novel was the actual emotions that could be found in the text.

    In that, I mean the comedy in certain situations just felt genuine, none of it felt forced the way comedy sometimes does in novels and in scenes where characters were angry or feeling other powerful emotions, I found that Rubens did a successful job at keeping realism while using descriptions to help the reader actually feel like they are in the situations with Isaac. I’m personally glad that I hadn’t finished the novel at school since I sobbed the entirety of the last few chapters of the novel, and when I say that, I mean that I was absolutely sobbing. The novel ended in a way that left me broken hearted and the “postepilogue” at the end of the novel has the novel ending on a positive note.

    I would recommend Sons of the 613 to readers of either gender, especially if they enjoy novels that are as humorous as they are thrilling. Sons of the 613 is a novel that I fans of middle grade novels would enjoy and that readers who want emotional novels, would enjoy

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2013

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