When 16-year-old Raina Resnick is expelled from her Manhattan private school, she’s sent to live with her strict aunt but Raina feels like she’s persona non grata no matter where she goes. Her sister, Leah, blames her for her broken engagement, and she’s a social pariah at her new school. In the tight-knit Jewish community, Raina finds she is good at one thing: matchmaking! As the anonymous “MatchMaven,” Raina sets up hopeless singles desperate to find the One. A cross between Jane Austen’s Emma, Dear Abby, and Yenta the matchmaker, Raina’s double life soon has her barely staying awake in class. Can she find the perfect match for her sister and get back on her good side, or will her tanking grades mean a second expulsion? In her debut novel, Suri Rosen creates a comic and heartwarming story of one girl trying to find happiness for others, and redemption for herself.
About the Author
Suri Rosen dabbles in many arts, but excels in daydreaming. She has worked as a professional artist, filmmaker, journalist, and TV producer. Playing with Matches is her first novel. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Read an Excerpt
Playing with Matches
By Suri Rosen
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2014 Suri Rosen
All rights reserved.
Hope and Inspiration for the Single Soul
Here's some advice if you plan on taking the Number 7 down Bathurst Street at 7:36 a.m. Do not sit downwind from the woman eating the industrial-grade tuna fish. And if The Groomer is on the bus, get ready to duck at the first sign of the nail clippers.
You really don't want any more details. And neither did I. But by my third morning in Toronto, I could have taught a class in Number 7 Studies. Which is what happens when you vacuum-pack the population of Giants Stadium into a space the size of a hot tub. I grasped a slimy pole next to the bus driver (nametag: Ian), where the air was only slightly less gloopy. I was just learning about Ian's path to driver-dom when he broke the unfortunate news.
"You'll have to move to the back now."
Ian was the closest thing that I had to a friend in Toronto.
O Leah, where art thou?
I glanced down at my cell phone but there was still no word from my sister. She was probably just boarding the bus in New York's Port Authority with her wedding gown wrapped in layers of tissue paper and nestled safely in the garment box. I had sixteen hours until I could meet the gown in person.
I took a deep breath and squeezed myself through the maze of human heat machines to the rear of the bus. Craning my neck, I caught sight of the ginger-haired woman reading in a seat next to the sealed window. Two boys clinging to an overhead pole ogled her from above.
Her red hair was swept back in a half-bun today. Tiny ringlets spilled onto her shoulders. She wore a silky Marc Jacobs blouse that I recognized from Macy's, a dark twill skirt that covered her knees, and pantyhose.
The elderly man sitting next to her struggled to his feet and pushed his way toward the exit. I squeezed past a child barking into a cell phone and plopped into the empty seat beside the woman.
Gingie-Locks's eyes were trained on the book resting in her lap. I glanced over her shoulder and noticed the word "love" sprinkled across the page. The title was written in a tiny font at the top of the open book. I leaned over and pretended to adjust the bow on my right shoe so I could make out the name of the book. Hope and Inspiration for the Single Soul.
I could use a little of that myself these days. I leaned back and peered past her, out the window. How on earth was I going to survive this exile?
The bouncing rhythm of "Sweet Caroline" hummed inside my handbag, offering a fleeting sense of the Red Sox. Unfortunately I wasn't at Fenway Park in the middle of the eighth inning — I was on the Number 7 bus holding a new phone. And since only three people had the number and my parents had called last night, there was only one person left.
My aunt. Mira Bernstein.
"Are you at school yet?" she said. "I noticed you left a little later than I suggested." Aunt Mira's prying voice might as well have been piped in over the bus's loudspeaker.
"I'm still on the bus," I said in a whisper.
"Fine. I'll call you later." By later, of course, she meant within the next twenty minutes. At this rate, I had to assume I was going to wake up one morning and find a GPS tracker clamped to my leg. This was my life as a Prisoner of Bernstein. It was painfully obvious that this year was not going to be a piece of cake. And speaking of cake, I don't mean to sound nasty but Aunt Mira's food wasn't exactly going to explode the ratings on RateMyMeatloaf.com, if you get what I'm saying.
If living with my mother's alpha sister wasn't bad enough, there was my sweet uncle Eli. Born and raised in Toronto, he had a tragic flaw. He was a Yankees fan. (Thank you Columbia Law School, class of '83.) I'm sorry, I adore you, New York, but I was born in Massachusetts for crying out loud. Couldn't he just root for something harmless like the Blue Jays?
I closed my eyes, but that only seemed to enhance the stink of body odour permeating the bus. It seemed so unfair that one un-showered person could hog all the clean air.
I dropped the phone back into my handbag. The only thing that was going to save me this year was my sister, Leah. Until November second she'd be all mine at Mira's, and then?
It didn't matter that I had been stuck in Hong Kong with Mom and Dad all summer while Leah was still in New York. Thanks to the internet, we swam the waters of bridal magazines, wedding gowns, and floral arrangements like pros — we were like the sockeye salmon of wedding planning. I hadn't heard from her since she'd gone down to New York on Thursday and was dying for details. As for Ben, her groom-to-be, there was still time to get used to him, I guess.
With nothing else to do I peered down at Hope and Inspiration for the Single Soul. Gingie-Locks was completely engrossed in her book. I strained my neck to get a better view.
She was reading a story about thirty-eight-year-old "Rachel Schwartz," who had given up hope of ever finding a mate after experiencing two broken engagements and a string of failed relationships. When it looked like things couldn't possibly get any worse, she suffered a terrible car accident and was rushed to the emergency room with a smashed-up foot.
Her encounter with the on-call podiatrist changed her life forever. They were instantly drawn to each other, started dating, and eventually got married in a fairy tale wedding. Not a bad story at all.
I was jarred out of Rachel Schwartz's honeymoon when Gingie-Locks turned in her seat. She took a sip from her travel coffee mug, looked at me with fern green eyes, and asked in an affable voice, "Am I reading too quickly for you?"
I gulped. "Um ... no. It's perfect."
She smiled and nodded, then peered down at the book again.
I sighed. For the last two years in New York, I was free as the wind. And now? I couldn't even steal a glance without getting busted.CHAPTER 2
To Share a House with a Yankees Fan
All dirty bricks and token windows, the Moriah Hebrew High School for Girls squatted sadly on a tract of exhausted shrubs. Winding through a bustle of girls I entered the building and managed to navigate my way to homeroom for English. It was my third day in eleventh grade at Moriah and I started class as I always did when I found myself at yet another new school: studying my new classmates. I peered around the room while Miss Weiss took attendance.
Never let a set of great cheekbones go to waste. Some side-bangs and you'd be a stunner.
You seem nice enough, but I'm thinking that your soul might be part graphing calculator.
Now we're talking.
Shira's strawberry blond hair fell in a loose crimp over her shoulders, cascading past tiny pearl earrings. Her starched white Oxford shirt rested perfectly on her navy pleated skirt. Somehow, on Shira, our school uniform looked like it was a Ralph Lauren.
Shira flipped her hair and pulled her shoulders back. "Here," she said, her voice ringing across the room.
Every class has a Shira, and every school has a ruling one too, although there's no question that a Toronto Shira isn't going to be in the same league as a New York Shira. Shiras are the kind of girls that decide whether a teacher controls a class or not. Shiras possess the sort of look you'll probably have within the year. Shiras are the standard by which all other girls view themselves.
I was a Shira during my glorious reign at the Maimonides High School for Girls in New York City. I sighed at the memory of two years of endless girlfriends, sleepovers, shopping trips, and pizza — pizza that was actually edible. It all started when I bumped into Maya and Danielle in Herald Square at a Macy's sale at the start of ninth grade. They were identical twins with chocolate brown eyes and black hair that flowed down their backs; within one week I became known as the "third twin," and the three of us spent endless hours together. For the first time in my life I finally had a best friend who wasn't my sister. Which is one of the perks of living in a city for more than five minutes. (Sorry, Dad. I love you with all my heart. The constant moving — not so much.)
When I entered high school my life completely transformed — from dorkulous to, well, fabulous.
You see, way back when a dude called Giovanni da Verrazzano set foot in Manhattan, he encountered corn crops, beans, and forests. When I went to high school in the city, I discovered Stella, Ralph, and Calvin. It was crazy how it all came together. I finally chucked my membership card to the Order of the Invisible, and boy had I arrived!
But that was then and this was now. I couldn't believe that I was starting all over again — but at least my sister, Leah, would be in Toronto in mere hours.
While Miss Weiss continued taking attendance, the door opened and a freshie poked her head in the classroom.
"Mrs. Levine would like to speak to Raina Resnick."
The principal's office already? What could she want from me now? My eyes met Shira Wasser's. With her stare fixed on me she leaned over to the girl next to her and whispered. My cheeks burned as they both giggled.
I plodded down the hall with an uneasy feeling about Mrs. Levine. From our first meeting last June it was clear that I was less high school student, and more rehabilitation project. Her personal urban wetland, if you will.
I entered her office where she was ensconced behind her enormous fake-wood desk. Mrs. Levine sat ramrod straight, her falcon-like eyes trailing me as I lowered myself into the moulded plastic chair facing her.
A manila file folder with my name written in black marker lay on her desk next to a cluster of photos of her with her children and grandchildren. In one of them, Mrs. Levine was sitting on a park bench hugging her young grandson. There was something not quite right about the image — like someone had Photoshopped a smile onto her face.
"I trust that you're having a positive adjustment to Toronto," she said, her stare as animated as a frozen flounder. "I'm quite pleased that your sister will be living with your aunt until her wedding. I understand she's a very studious young lady."
Which was code for responsible, of course. With our matching black hair and turquoise eyes, Leah and I looked alike on the outside, but to be honest, she really was the good one. I mean, until she fell in love and disappeared into the Ben-o-verse last year, she was the one who had gotten me through my math and science classes. She was the one I could count on for friendship, no matter what city we were in. Which is pretty impressive for a sibling who's seven years older.
"And you're both living in such a lovely community," Mrs. Levine was saying.
You kidding me? What's not to love about Thornhill? It's the suburb that never sleeps!
She placed her clasped hands on the table and trained her eyes on me.
And trained and trained.
I shifted in my seat and waited. The ticking of the industrial clock thumped the heavy air in the room. A picture of a rabbi in a black coat hung on the wall behind her.
"I'm not going to lie, Raina," she finally said. "You know that I have concerns that our academic standards aren't necessarily the best ... match for you."
Her eyes were like laser beams; it seemed dangerous to look at them directly.
"I do hope you're settling in at Moriah," she said. Talk about settling in, I stared at her hair. What was with women in their sixties sporting hairstyles so stiff they looked like they'd been sprayed with polyurethane?
"Oh, sorry. I'm extremely settled."
Mrs. Levine shot me another one of her trademark x-ray gazes. I tightened my unbuttoned blazer around me, like I could gaze-proof myself.
"This is a critical opportunity that you have now," she said. She pinched her lips together, rose from her seat, rounded the table, and then settled on the edge of the desk. Her blouse was rammed inside a skirt with an elastic waistband that was exactly eye level. I would never want to alarm Mrs. Levine, but with all that polyester she was a walking fire hazard.
"Our program is really geared for the student who is responsible and conscientious," she said. "We have very strict rules here and since you signed a form saying that you've read and agreed to the student handbook, I'm not anticipating any problems. Attendance, punctuality, and especially cell phones. We do not tolerate cell phones at the school."
I craned my neck, mesmerized by the tiny bits of mist spraying down from her mouth. "But we do all want to maximize your opportunity for growth."
Like I was a financial portfolio. I stared longingly at the door to her office. Maybe Hong Kong wouldn't be so bad after all. As Mrs. Levine leaned forward I shrank back in my seat.
"I'm sure you're aware that I have concerns about the appropriateness of your placement here," she said, in case I'd missed it the first fifty times. "So to that end, you'll meet with me on a weekly basis, to check in on your progress. And we'd like to offer you the opportunity to meet with the school social worker, Mrs. Marmor, who is more than happy to help you in any way possible."
The "we" who were making this "offer" was a painfully vast network of adults who had conspired to arrange every aspect of my life since I was tossed out of Maimonides last June. We're talking principals, vice principals, parents, social workers, and psychologists. It was a dream team of teenage failure management.
"That's so sweet, Mrs. Levine, but I really don't think that's necessary."
"Thursdays at lunch," she said, without moving a muscle on her face. "Agreed?"
You could have choked from all the hostility in that office. I answered with a tiny nod.
When she finally released me, I stepped out the door of her office, just as Dahlia Engel dropped off a form in the reception area. She shot a glance at the office entrance and our eyes met for a moment. She quickly averted her gaze, like she'd been caught gawking at the bleeder next to the ambulance. I grimaced and shrunk back toward the office.
Pity. And from a geek like Dahlia Engel, no less. Does it get worse than that?
* * *
That night, after a nasty dinner of tuna patties and canned corn, I shuffled over to the dairy sink in the large kitchen island.
"Mira, such a delicious dinner," Bubby Bayla said, as she choked down a bite of her tuna patty. Aunt Mira's mother-in-law was a thick woman in her eighties with wispy silver curls, sensible frames, and a doughy face.
The heat wave was stifling so I splashed some cold water on my cheeks. Aunt Mira, wearing a silk blouse with a tied bow, plucked a tea towel from a cherry cabinet and handed it to me. I grabbed it and wiped my sweaty face.
I was sure I heard a snort from Bubby Bayla. Mira pursed her lips and said in a Very. Controlled. Tone, "Raina."
Okay, now what did I do?
"That's for drying dishes," Aunt Mira said. "For you to dry dishes with."
"Don't they dry if you just leave them out?"
Bubby chuckled. Mira placed her fists on her hips and glared. I got it now. The plan was for me to become Mira's beast of burden.
Jeremy regarded me from over his cantaloupe with a bemused smile.
How do I begin to explain Jeremy?
Actually, maybe somebody could explain to me why an able-bodied thirty-year-old lawyer was practically squatting at Mira's house? I know that his dad was best friends with Uncle Eli back in law school, but really, didn't he have some bachelor pad that he could, you know, live in?
"What do you think of Sabathia's performance?" Uncle Eli said, turning to Jeremy. Did he have to bring up a Yankee so soon after dinner? It made me want to bring up mine.
"He just has an incredible arm," Jeremy said, knuckling the table for emphasis.
Bubby shook her head and muttered something inaudible before pulling herself up to her feet and shuffling out of the kitchen. Uncle Eli and Jeremy watched her hobble to the family room where she settled herself on the couch with a moan.
Jeremy turned back to Uncle Eli. "He's one of the most dependable pitchers in the league," he said, winking at me.
I spun away from him and attacked the ceramic dish. Jeremy, like Uncle Eli, was a shameless Yankees fan. Which probably would explain why he was having such a hard time finding a wife.
The ringing of my phone rescued me from the coven of heretics.
Excerpted from Playing with Matches by Suri Rosen. Copyright © 2014 Suri Rosen. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was a fast and fun book that I really liked. I've never read an Orthodox Jewish MC besides Asher Lev, which because it was for English class was not a great experience at all. This book was pure fun, as well as heartfelt, with a sprawling family dynamic, real consequences for the heroine, and a lot of adults who weren't just around to be villains. The reason this is 3 stars instead of higher is that I just couldn't get into the voice of the character--she kept saying things that pulled me out of the story. If her narration doesn't bother you in the first chapter, then I think you'll love this book. Raina's flawed, which I loved, and has a strong moral compass that sometimes makes her break the rules. Ultimately this is a book about family, community, and righting wrongs you do to others, all wrapped up in a hilarious character-driven plot. I am very glad I bought this for my library, because I think a lot of girls will love this book.