Tuesday, May 29, 2012

OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy

OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy is one of those books that could easily be someone's favorite. It's cover is cute, entertaining and appealing to tweens (it's target audience) and its title is fantastic. It's insides are just as appealing, a speech and debater (seriously, first book I've read about one of my favorite extra-curriculars) who is Jewish must hide her identity to attend an all Christian speech and debate camp. It tackles the issues of race and religion and honesty...or does it?

And, that's were this book kind of leaves me, well, a little peeved. Ellie has been raised by her Jewish family and although she is raised Jewish, she doesn't question it, until being Jewish means losing a scholarship to a prestigious, definitely Christian, high school. From the very beginning we see Ellie as a strong-willed girl and then we see this girl become less willful and, well, less truthful as the Christian camp progresses. She begins to hide her Jewish grandmother's cross and is embarrassed by her very Jewish Zeydeh (her eccentric grandfather).

I sort of understand why her parents would allow her to lie about her religious affiliation, if they would have protested too much she would have done it anyway, but they don't really talk to her about what it means to be Jewish or about what it means to be Christian. In this respect they seem like good-natured hippies and I bought that. But, if they're so good-natured why must Ellie be anything at all? In fact, it seems that all the Christians in this book are in some ways the villains of the piece...because of an incident long ago, Doris hates all Jewish people, so much so that she wants to punish them horribly and Ellie's Lutheran grandparents seem to be those crazy Christians who feel that their son 'dun did 'em wrong' by raising Ellie Jewish only. Her father talks to her a little bit about how he doesn't go to church because he feels spiritual in the great outdoors gardening and such, but she doesn't say much about where she feels most spiritual. And, why is Ellie only Jewish, just because her father leans towards wanting no religion that doesn't mean they shouldn't teach her all they know, instead of just assuming she will be?

The story itself is adorable and the characters are developed and believable. Ellie has never been challenged before and there are speech and debaters there who are better than her. The speech she gives at the end is poignant and would truly convince any kid waffling on either side of the issue to chose one...Ellie is two cultures, yet she must give up one to be the other. As a person of mixed heritage I find that, well, sad.

Hmmm...maybe that's the true problem I have with this book...the fact that Ellie chooses a side. I like the novel Kissing Kate because it gives us all the information and definitely tells us were the main character is leaning, but allows us to see it for ourselves. Lissa is still learning and questioning, therefore so must we. I like that ending. Teaching kids to question is the best part of teaching. I'm not sure this book does that.

I suppose if Jewish kids are reading this it is important for them to identify with Ellie and her family and then understand that being Jewish is their heritage and their identity. And, that would have worked had Ellie not been  part Lutheran and if Ellie hadn't had family members (ie. her Lutheran grandparents) to talk to about their religion. She never does talk to them, by the way, she only goes to church once and the whole time she sees both she and Jesus as outsiders.

3 Stars
All of that being said, I think that OyMG is a great book for those middle grade kids who may see that Ellie is truly conflicted, to me that did come across very well.

Teacher Advisories
Sex 1/5 
There's a cute moment with some hand-holding and a little kiss at the end. Good times.
Language 0/5 
I think there's some words used to indicate being upset, but that's about it.
Substance Abuses 0/5
Um, yep, I got nothin'...
Violence 1/5
So, yeah, Dynamite Doris is pretty awful and her story about why she dislikes Jewish people is shallow and has to do with lost love...I mean really shallow, but I think that's what happens something silly totally jades us against someone or something forever.

Touchy Subjects
Ellie and her family are definitely Jewish. Her father is pretty much agnostic and communes with nature. Doris, the kids at camp and Devon is too. They go to church, Ellie talks about Jesus being Jewish.
Telling lies
Ellie lies to her family, her friends and, in the beginning, Devon encourages her because he sees it as easier than standing up to his grandmother. In the end, of course, the lies catch up to her and she has a lot of explaining to do.
Puppy Love
Ellie has a hard time being herself around Devon because she is so enamored with him.
Do we have free will? What happens when our friends question it?

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option (not for honors students...reading level is too darned easy, unless, of course, they read it for their independent summer read and for that I have a guide...a guide I should post on this website...hmmm...)

3 Stars
I love the story, love the characters, just wish Ellie would have more of a choice.

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