by Amy Fellner Dominy
2011 | 256 pages | Young Adult
At the start of OyMG, a debut YA novel by Amy Fellner Dominy published this past May, Ellie Taylor enrolls in a Christian Speech and Performing Arts summer camp. She doesn't think it really matters that she is Jewish, since she'll be there to practice debate, not to develop new beliefs, but Ellie soon learns that the situation is a bit more complicated than that. The debaters at this camp are all competing for a scholarship to attend a local private school, and the administrator of the scholarship is the grandmother of one of Ellie's new camp friends, a boy named Devon. Devon thinks he's doing Ellie a favor when he warns her that his grandmother prefers to give the award to Christian kids, and Ellie doesn't hesitate more than a second, at first, to pose as a Protestant. This decision angers Zeydeh, her grandfather, however, and as the final speech of camp approaches, Ellie must decide if what she will gain - a scholarship - is worth what she would have to lose - her true identity.
I really wish more children's and YA books would talk about religion. Every time I read a book like this, whether it's from my religious background or not (this time it's not), I am mostly pleased with the way religion is treated. I'm skeptical, on the whole, of the way Judaism, Christianity, Catholicism, and other faiths are treated by the media, but by and large YA authors really do a good job of portraying religion as a positive thing in their characters' lives, and not a scapegoat or an easy target for ridicule.
This book is no exception. Ellie's dilemma is a realistic one, and the discrimination she endures happens to real teens, whether it's on the basis of race, age, class, or religion. I love the way the author explores the various emotions Ellie experiences, and how she made me feel the suffocating, boxed-in feeling of having to choose between two almost equally important options - the dream scholarship, which will help her future, and the faith she believes and values. I was a little unsure of the depiction of Devon's grandmother. Certainly her attitudes were wrong, and those are attitudes still adopted by people in today's world, but at times, she felt a little too evil, and I wondered if that made her lose some credibility as a character. Overall, though, I found this book to be a really moving portrayal of a girl who struggles to do the right thing, and triumphs, but not easily, and not right away.
This is a good one for young teens, and raises a lot of important issues for discussion. It would make a nice read-alike for About the B'nai Bagels by E.L. Konigsburg, which also deals with anti-Semitism, as well as Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr, and The God Box by Alex Sanchez, which also provide realistic and well-written depictions of religious belief in teens.
I borrowed OyMG from my local public library.