May 7, 2014

World Outside a thoughtful read

The World Outside
by Eva Wiseman

Seventeen-year-old Chanie Altman lives a sheltered life. As a Lubavitcher Hasidic girl, she's expected to follow the strict tenets of her religion. That means performing outreach to teach fellow Jews how to become more devout, attending the seminary instead of going to college, dressing modestly, and never talking to strange boys. Understandably, Chanie is beginning to question her faith and rebelling in small ways. So when she meets David, a Jew who isn't religious, she is thrown into turmoil. 

Chanie has a beautiful singing voice. With David's encouragement, she applies for a scholarship to Juilliard. But when race riots erupt between Jews and Blacks in her Crown Heights neighborhood and in the face of family tragedy, Chanie is forced to choose between a prescribed life or the world outside.

Teen readers will sympathize greatly with Chanie's plight. Not being able to read secular books or listen to nonreligious music, never to sing in front of strange men, or even to drink coffee if it isn't kosher - such restrictions may shock and dismay many modern girls. Add in Chanie's mother's anger at her daughter and the spectre of an arranged marriage, and you could end up with teens eschewing religion for atheism. They'll be hoping that Chanie achieves her dreams and follows her heart. The ending, which I will not reveal, will result in heated debates for a long time coming.

Wiseman writes with care and restraint, allowing the action to proceed without being overwrought. She clearly reveals the strength of faith and of community and what happens when that strength is tested. The World Outside is well worth reading.

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