Never Mind the Goldbergs -- Matthue Roth
...when you're a seventeen-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl with purple-and-burgundy-streaked hair, ripped denim skirts that come down to your ankles, and death rock T-shirts—you don't look like you're holding back. I had this friend last year who decided that she didn't believe in G-d. She ran away from her parents' house and lived in a squatter house with a pack of hippies, eating ninety-nine-cent bags of potato chips and beef jerky. She came back a month later, still atheist, just not as loud about it.
That wasn't me. I still believed in G-d. I just didn't believe in other people.
I mean, some days, I felt like G-d was the only one who believed back at me.
Just before summer break begins, Hava is offered a spot on a new sitcom about an Orthodox family. She trades her neighborhood in New York for a soundstage in Los Angeles, a community where almost EVERYONE is Orthodox for a community where almost NO ONE is Orthodox. Because, you see, she's the only actor on the show who is even Jewish, let alone Orthodox.
I wanted to like Never Mind the Goldbergs so much more than I actually did. The beginning showed so much promise, but then it just sort of... devolved.
It has some very strong points—Hava is truly a believer, she loves and takes comfort in her religion and way of life WITHOUT being overly pious, judgmental about others, a hypocrite, or any of the other unattractive characteristics that often pop up when religion is dealt with in YA literature. The time she spends at the Blue Hebrew House, where she finds her real soul-mates, is particularly joyful. It was a nice change from the typical stories that deal with religion and belief.
I love the cover.
Her voice is original, sarcastic and smart. She swears like a sailor. I took to her immediately.
But it wasn't enough. The book plodded. It was far too long, things happened too randomly, there wasn't much in the way of character development. Her relationship with Evie made NO sense. Lots of stuff happened, but it all felt pointless.
For example: Her best friend, whom she's known since they were crawling, comes out to her. Okay.
A) Hava's pretty perceptive. I don't buy it that she wouldn't have had any sort of inkling. No clue? None whatsoever? And the reason that he was forced to tell her? You don't put the moves on your best friend—sober—without obsessing about it long and hard first. There's too much to lose.
B) There was no reason for it in the plot. It just felt thrown in, maybe to show that Hava's down with homosexuality? I don't know. I realize that there are random events in real life, but if it does nothing to further the plot or to flesh out the characters in a book, it just seems extraneous. As I said, the book was already too long.
But my major problem was The Producers. What was that scene all about?
filming the whole season,
almost being fired,
explaining that no, she can't and won't hug the actor that is playing her father because she's shomer negiah,
- arguing for permission to leave early so she can get home in time for Shabbos—well, she doesn't really argue, actually, she just leaves
- and after waiting for weeks for the caterers to include kosher meals on set,
she is finally called to the inner sanctum to meet The Producers, where, shocker of shocks, she discovers:
Behind a bookcase, I saw a pudgy, bearded Santa Claus-like face peek out. The head was framed in a black hat. Hasidic side curls poked out from beneath his hat. He did a double take when he saw me.
The Producers discuss her as if she isn't there—not her acting, but her faith. It all felt very much like the whole experience was a big test. Which made me almost hate the book. I'm sorry, but as far as I know, TV producers are concerned with the Bottom Line. Not with bringing random Orthodox girl in from New York to test her faith.
If it had turned out to be a reality show, it would have worked. Maybe. But it wasn't and it didn't.