Rummanah Aasi
Hush by Eishes Chayil received starred reviews from Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and Kirkus Reviews. It has also been selected as a William C. Morris YA Award nominee by the Young Adult Library Services Association this year. For those of you who are not familiar with the award, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award ( first awarded in 2009), honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens. You can learn more about this award and see the other nominees here. After reading the reviews and hearing the news about the Morris award, I thought I would read Hush.

Description: In Borough Park, New York there is a closed community of Chassidims. The Chassidisms are a sect of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Their rules of life are very clear, some may call rigid, and are determined by the Torah. There are things that are never discussed amongst this community, particularly those against the members of its own community. When Gittel was ten old she witnessed her best friend, Devory, suffer from abuse but Gittel didn’t understand what truly happened. Now that she is an adult and understood the horrors that her best friend went through, she struggles to voice the incident, but the adults in her community try to persuade Gittel and themselves, that nothing happened. Forced to remain silent and carry several years of guilt, Gittel begins to question everything she was raised to believe and now she no longer wants to be hushed.

Review: Hush is a semi-autobiographical novel. The author Eishes Chayil is a pseudonym and she is a member of the Chassidic community who has written a searing narrative focusing on one Chassidic victim's abuse and one witness's torment over a period of six years. Gittel was only ten years old when she witnessed her best friend, Devory also ten, being abused. The narrative is composed of flashbacks between the events of 2003 and the present events of the year 2009. During these years, we see get a glimpse of the Chassidic traditions and way of life as well as see Gittel grow up and her friendship with Devory grow. What drives the story is Gittel’s guilt and confusion about what happened to Devory. Her frustration and horror intensifies when she is eventually married.
  Before reading Hush, I had absolutely no idea that there was such a sect of Judaism called Chassidism much less their traditions, beliefs, and practices. At times the reading was hard because the book is filled with Yiddish terms and expressions that took me a while to get adjusted to. I was also taken aback by the Chassidic community’s opinions of those who are not Jewish and how they address problems amongst its members. Family reputation is held in high regards and is upheld no matter what goes behind the scenes. Any problem, no matter how severe, that tarnishes the family’s reputation is never brought forward and is always either ignored or silenced. Abuse either by family members or even the rabbis at yeshiva (religious school) are not reported. These innocent young victims are forced to keep silent and their changes to their behavior due to the abuse they received are pegged as problem children.
   Gittel is an interesting character. She is at once naïve about the outside world around her, yet she is a keen observer of her own community. For example, she has no idea of what sex is until she her marriage night. It is then that she realizes what abuse Devory endured yet she can’t distinguish that abuse with being intimidate with her husband. It is horrifying and shocking to see so many of the adults in her life to try and persuade her from being vocal about Devory. To deal with her tremendous guilt, she writes letters to Devory and very bravely visits the local police station where she attempts to tell the truth.
  Hush is not an easy read nor should it be given its content. It is shocking, horrifying, and heart wrenching, but it’s important that it is written. Its sole purpose, I believe, is to show that abuse of any kind does not have a set identity. It can happen to anyone regardless of their community, religion, race, economic status, etc. The author's writing style is simple and sparse, which works efficiently for this story showing Gittel’s naiveté and her loss of innocence once she looks closely at her community . Like Gittel, we also try to figure out what happened, why, and what can be done. We feel her frustration and anger when she repeatedly told to be silent. We are also haunted by Devory’s ghost and know that we should not be silent of any abuse that we witness. Bravo to the author in writing a very important story that I’m sure will resonate with others who suffer silently and are not given justice.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are a few allusions to sex. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson or The Chosen by Chaim Potok
4 Responses
  1. Demitria Says:

    Sounds like a powerful book. Was it difficult to read?

  2. Demitria: It's definitely powerful. The Yiddish terms was a bit tricky and difficult to understand at times, but there is a glossary to help you out.

  3. Jenny Says:

    Wow, this one does sound really really intense and emotional but well worth the read I'm sure. Being told to be silent would be awful, I can't imagine not being able to speak freely without fear of unimaginable repercussions. Thanks for this review Rummanah!

  4. Nat Says:

    This sounds powerful and reminds me of April Maley's I Will Not Be Silent, which was also about hiding abuse.

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