Rummanah Aasi
  There are some events in history and in our lives that we can't wrap our heads around. One of the puzzling things for me is understanding why humans hurt one another. Where does the hatred come from and how does it start? Shirley Vernick's novel The Blood Lie zeroes in a dark period in American history where ignorance and prejudice collide.

Description (from the publisher): September 22, 1928, Massena, New York. Jack Pool's sixteenth birthday. He's been restless lately, especially during this season of more-times-at-the-synagogue than you can shake a stick at. If it wasn't Rosh Hashanah, then it was Yom Kippur, and if it wasn't Yom Kippur, it was the Sabbath. But temple's good for some things. It gives him lots of time to daydream about a beautiful but inaccessible Gentile girl named Emaline. And if she isn't on his mind, then he's thinking about his music and imagining himself playing the cello with the New York Philharmonic. Yup, music is definitely his ticket out of this remote whistle-stop town--he doesn't want to be stuck here one more minute. But he doesn't realize exactly how stuck he is until Emaline's little sister Daisy goes missing and he and his family are accused of killing her for a blood sacrifice.

Review: The Blood Lie is a very slim novel that packs a lot of information and food for thought in less than 150 pages. The reader is taken back to 1928. Unlike the glitz and the glamor of the flappers, mobsters of the Jazz Age, our setting is a quiet, provincial Massena, New York. Jack Poole is 16 and  wants nothing more than to leave his small, insular upstate town to study music in Syracuse. Not only is Jack's dream, but also a welcoming distraction from his forbidden crush, Emaline, a girl he can never be with because he is Jewish and she is Christian.
  With the exception of Emaline's family who accepts the Poole's as friends and looks beyond their different religious affiliations, the town simmers in anti-Semitism. The depth and strength of the town's prejudice is revealed when Emaline's sister, Daisy, goes missing and presumed dead. When a libel starts that Jews use human sacrifice as part of their Yom Kippur celebrations, Jack is accused of Daisy's murder as he was last seen with the child. Investigators assume that Yom Kippur involves human sacrifice and the use of children's blood for religious ceremonies is correct and starts to target the Jewish community. Vesnick does a good job in keeping the reader in suspense about Daisy. We are given several scenes of a search team trying to find her but come up empty. The plot twist does come in much later as the mob hysteria grows to a feverish pitch.
  I found the plot twist improbable, but I was fascinated to read in the afterword that the book is closely based on an incident that occurred in the author's hometown of Massena, NY., which proves the often saying that life is indeed stranger than fiction. The dialogue and details about the characters' social world are given importance and seem carefully researched. Though the setting and period may seem distant to us, we can identify with the characters' universal desires and feelings.
  My main issue with The Blood Lie is its brevity. The action is extremely compressed, which makes for a fast but unsatisfying. The novel is clearly plot driven and doesn't give us enough time nor space to get a deeper, more-nuanced knowledge of the characters. I also had a problem with some of the Hebrew words, which weren't translated. I had hoped there was a glossary that was included in the book, but there wasn't. Still, Vernick reminds us how terrifying intolerance, prejudice, and ignorance can be.

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies, Religious studies

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some violent images mentioned in the book and some language. I would be comfortable in recommending it to Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Witness by Karen Hesse
8 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    They believe Yom Kippur involved human sacrifice? Wow. Books like this get my blood boiling, I just don't understand the need to point fingers based on nothing but prejudice. I recently finished a book similar (except it was a class issue not a religious one) and I had to get up and walk away from the book before I threw it across the room:)

  2. Great review! I do think books with foreign words should have a glossary-I feel like I'm missing an important part of the story without the meaning of that one word. I can't imagine people believing that in the 20's! And then again I can. Mobs can be made to believe anything. Too bad it didn't quite live up to what it could have been. Still, it's a great review,very thought provoking.


  3. Candace Says:

    Wow, this book sounds like one that would be a bit emotional. I really like the description and I think it would definitely bring out my anger at people who are so close-minded and cruel.
    I think a glossary is most definitely needed as I would feel lost with Hebrew words that I have no clue of the meaning.
    And lack of character development might be an issue.

  4. Not sure that this book would hold my attention, but it's always interesting to see how other cultures are explored in lit, though I would think that more character development would be instrumental in successfully illustrating it. Sorry to hear this one didn't quite manage that.

  5. I like that it spotlights atrocity and it damage, but it doesn't sound like it did a good job in really telling the story. True life is stranger than fiction, but yet, still has to have some string of believability to sell it.

  6. Brittany Says:

    I hadn't heard of this book until now but it sounds interesting, thanks for bringing it to my attention :)

  7. I'm curious now about the plot twist because it seems improbable and yet is based on a real life incident. I find it nice to get away from the paranormal genre a bit so I like hearing about books that are different but interesting. Thanks, Rummanah!

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Oh boy this sounds like a pretty intense read. Ive never heard of it before, but I will add to the TBR. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Rummanah.

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