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Strange Relations

Strange Relations

4.0 2
by Sonia Levitin

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A summer in paradise. That's all Marne wants. That's all she can think of when she asks her parents permission to spend the summer in Hawaii with Aunt Carole and her family.

But Marne quickly realizes her visit isn't going to be just about learning to surf and morning runs along the beach, despite the cute surfer boy she keeps bumping into. For one thing, Aunt


A summer in paradise. That's all Marne wants. That's all she can think of when she asks her parents permission to spend the summer in Hawaii with Aunt Carole and her family.

But Marne quickly realizes her visit isn't going to be just about learning to surf and morning runs along the beach, despite the cute surfer boy she keeps bumping into. For one thing, Aunt Carole isn't even Aunt Carole anymore—she's Aunt Chaya, married to a Chasidic rabbi and deeply rooted in her religious community. Nothing could be more foreign to Marne, and fitting into this new culture—and house full of kids—is a challenge. But as she settles into her newfound family's daily routine, she begins to think about spirituality, identity, and finding a place in the world in a way she never has before.

This rich novel is a window into a different life and gets to the very heart of faith, identity, and family ties.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Levitin (The Goodness Gene) offers a vivid portrayal of Chasidic culture in this intimate novel about a contemporary Los Angeles teen's reunion with her extended Orthodox Jewish family. Having felt disconnected from her parents since her younger sister's disappearance five years ago, 15-year-old Marne is eager to go to Hawaii to spend the summer with her Aunt Chaya's family, even if it means putting up with their religious views and rituals. Marne looks forward to swimming in the ocean and learning to surf, but ends up spending most of her time helping overworked Aunt Chaya with her seven children and with her endless community duties as a rabbi's wife. Some traditions practiced in the household-particularly the restrictions placed on women's dress and demeanor-frustrate and embarrass Marne, and she finds herself in a sticky situation when a boy she meets receives a cold reception from her aunt. But Marne's induction to the family's strict rules also has a profound and positive effect, inspiring her to contemplate her own views of family, religion and morality. The broadening of Marne's outlook as she comes to know and cherish her aunt, uncle and cousins is convincing. There are perhaps a few too many conflicts cluttering the storyline, but the heroine's inner turmoil and emotional growth are skillfully and movingly wrought. Ages 12-up. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Levitin has written many outstanding books for YAs about the Jewish experience, both contemporary and historical. Strange Relations is set in the present, and most of the action takes place in Hawaii when Marne visits her aunt, a Hasidic Jew married to a rabbi. We slowly find out that Marne's little sister was kidnapped some years previously; her parents haven't recovered and all of them are closed in with their own grief. So, Marne's experience with her aunt and uncle and their large family of children, from teenagers to toddlers, is life altering. Marne and her parents are Jewish but not religious, and in fact Aunt Carole wasn't religious either until she met Yitz, married him, and changed her name to Chaya. What is so good about Levitin's work is that she presents her characters as total human beings, struggling with life, not people with all the answers who are too good to be true. In 300 pages, Marne's story is filled with details of her introduction to the way her cousins live, the way of the Hasidim: the music (Marne herself plays guitar and is very creative) in the household, the evenings spent enjoying being together, the endless flow of guests, the prayers and rituals. Marne finds a place where she can openly talk about her grief over her sister and question why evil happens. Yes, she is stunned at the modesty demanded in the family, but she also sees comfort in the rules. By the end of the summer, real love is forged among the cousins, and the sisters (Aunt Chaya and Marne's mother) are reunited. We understand a family's rift has been mended and we know Marne will continue to explore ways to be Jewish—perhaps not so extreme as the way her "strange relations"live, but some way that allows her to be all she can be, which for her includes a spiritual life. An enjoyable story and one that makes the reader think.
School Library Journal

Gr 7-10 - While her parents travel for business, Marne, 15, looks forward to spending the summer in Hawaii with her aunt and her family. She's not quite sure what to expect, since her mom has been estranged for several years from Aunt Carole (now "Chaya") due to Carole's "extreme" beliefs. Marne views the trip as an opportunity to expand her horizons, get a tan, run on the beach, and meet cute boys. What she encounters is another world, not just because Hawaii is an island community, but because Aunt Chaya, her rabbi husband, and their seven children are Hasids. Marne's secular Jewish upbringing hasn't prepared her for the strong level of religious devotion and the constant hard work that her aunt embraces with love every day. Marne slowly discovers the deep joy that this lifestyle brings as she helps with the children and becomes an integral part of the selfless community of women. When her best friend arrives for a vacation, Marne is stunned by Kim's shallowness; she realizes that she isn't the same person she used to be, and that her experiences have helped her to accept the terrible tragedy that devastated her family five years earlier. It's rare to find such well-developed characters, empathetic and sensitive religious treatment, and carefully crafted plotlines in one novel. Levitin's strong portrayal of a young woman who is trying to find her own beliefs and develop a sense of family makes this novel a real winner.-Susan Riley, Mount Kisco Public Library, NY

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Marne, a 15-year-old girl from a nominally Jewish home, spends a summer in Hawaii with her mother's sister, now a Chasidic Jew, and her deeply religious family. Marne wants to visit-not because of an interest in Judaism, but because her best friend will be vacationing nearby. Though the story has a fish-out-of-water setup, it is also a thoughtful look at competing value systems. Good-time materialism, as personified by Marne's best friend and her family, is juxtaposed with the values of Marne's strange relations, who have a more spiritual take on the universe. Levitin's gift-her ability to catapult the reader into another world-is on full display here, offering a vivid sense of the rhythm and texture of Chasidic life. The character of the aunt is particularly dexterous, a complicated woman whose gung-ho enthusiasm for her new life is simultaneously her biggest asset and greatest flaw. The chronicle of Marne's kidnapped sister, which has left her family emotionally paralyzed, never feels integral to the rest of the story, and the romantic healing of Marne's parents is hard to buy. Still, these are minor quibbles in a transporting experience. (Fiction. 12-15)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.81(w) x 8.46(h) x 1.10(d)
700L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Sonia Levitin is the author of many popular books for young readers, including Journey to America, The Return, and The Singing Mountain. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Strange Relations 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
It seems like such a good idea. Marne knows that her mom's sister, Carole, lives in Hawaii, so she has only to convince her parents that she should go for a long overdue visit to her relatives. She'll run along the beach, maybe even surf and swim in the ocean. Best of all, her friend will also be visiting Hawaii, so there will be no end of fun. When her parents agree to Marne's plan, she knows she's in for the perfect summer in the paradise of the Hawaiian islands!

It doesn't take long for Marne to realize that her summer may not be as flawless as she'd hoped. Her aunt, who now calls herself "Chaya" and her uncle, a rabbi, have seven children. Marne is kept busy chasing after sticky toddlers and running errands for her busy, controlling aunt. She doesn't mind helping out, but the religious world of her cousins is far different from the life she's used to back home in L.A.

Although spending Friday nights at Shabbos dinners is a far cry from the fun-filled, tropical nights she'd envisioned, Marne finds herself strangely drawn to some of the peaceful rituals practiced by her relatives. But, how will this fit in with her old life? Will her best friend, Kim, think Marne's becoming weird? What about Jeff, the hunky surfer she met while jogging on the beach? Little by little, she's figuring out who her family is and who she herself wants to become.

STRANGE RELATIONS is an enticing read for anyone interested in exploring different cultures and lifestyles. Marne is a wonderful guide, who gives a thorough glimpse of the life of Chasidic Jews, as seen by a modern teen.