I feel like whenever I review an older book from my pile, I always start it off apologizing for taking FOREVER to read the book and write the review. I just have that whole guilt complex. Guys, it’s time for yet another WHY DID I LET THIS BOOK LANGUISH FOR SO LONG review. Y’all, I have had Hush by Eishes Chayil (a pseudonym) to read since May 2010. It’s taken me over three years and some pretty crappy books to finally make my way to it. I find that sad because Hush is a moving story about shining the light on sexual abuse within a community that would rather sweep it under the rug. I think that if you like hard hitting contemporary books set in unique subcultures, you should pick up a copy of Hush, it’s usually on sale on Kindle, as of typing this review it’s currently $4.61 and well worth your dollars.
Gittel is a Chassidic, or Orthodox Jew who lives in Borough Park, Brooklyn within a community of other Chassidic Jews. Her community is very tightly-knit and traditional. Hush is a first person story that alternates between the year 2003 and 2009. Essentially, in Hush, Gittel witnesses the molestation of her best friend Devory by one of Devory’s family members. Gittel never says anything about it, and so the book is about how she grapples with the silence. It’s also about her community and their traditions — one of the reasons she does not come forward and report what happened is because she does not want to bring shame on her family or ruin her marriage prospects by speaking ill of another Jew. More than that, this book is about day to day life and how trauma can eat away at you, regardless of the subculture you belong to.
As a character, Gittel is not one who will be among your Katniss Everdeens, and that’s fine. She’s not the type of girl who needs to fight and survive. She’s not the type of girl who gets into swoonworthy romances. In fact, there’s barely even a hint of a romance in this book. Gittel loves her family, we see plenty of positive and happy interactions between herself and her parents. She loves her friends. She is mostly happy within her community, following her traditions. When that bad thing happens with Devory, Gittel has no idea what to do. She tells Devory’s parents who tell her she must forget what she saw and never tell another person. Then, when something even more awful happens, Gittel’s mother insists that she does not speak of what happened to anyone. I thought it was so interesting to see Gittel at odds over what to do, torn between tradition and integrity. Gittel is certainly a quiet sort of heroine, but one who struggles just as the more obvious sorts.
This is totally weird for me to admit, but I find subcultures fascinating. I really ate this book up as it described what life is like for people who are Chassidic. I loved that Hush did not describe the community in a disrespectful way, nor did it describe the community through rose colored glasses. Instead, I felt like Chayil showed that the Chassidic have a loving community with deep traditions but like every other community, it is not without it’s issues. Aside from this, I will be more specific and say that I liked reading about the matchmaking and about all of the marriage preparations and the ceremony. That sort of thing is really interesting to me.
Eishes Chayil’s Hush is a very accessible sort of book and one that I think has universal themes. I think that it is not just the Chassidic community where silence surrounds sexual abuse, but contemporary society as well. No one group of people is immune to abuse. I mean, perhaps the Chassidic community is more reticent to acknowledge it as acknowledging would mean admitting that something is very, very wrong. I felt that Chayil did a good job showing why admitting this means change and why change is very, very hard for traditional sorts of societies. Alas. If you suspect someone is sexually abusing their child, please, please make a report to the CPS hotline. If a child discloses to you that they are being molested, please hotline it.
Disclosure: Review copy obtained at BEA 2010. Fail fail fail for not reading this one sooner. But WIN for actually reading it and not purging it.
Other reviews of Hush by Eishes Chayil:
Bibliophile Brouhaha – “heartbreaking, poignant and promising”
Steph Su Reads – “has all the makings of a modern classic”
Stacked – “a book that will stick with readers for a long time”