Strange Relations by Sonia Levitin

When Marne’s mother has to go to Paris for the summer, she goes to visit her aunt in Hawaii. She expects her summer to be a perfect paradise, not realizing that even though she and her parents are non-practicing Jews, her aunt and uncle and seven cousins are Hasidic Jews and their lives are incredibly different from hers. She has the expected trouble adjusting to the bustle of their lives and the rules that they observe. In addition, she is also dealing with some grief of her own. By the end of the summer, when one of her friends visits, she realizes that the time there has changed her, both in helping her deal with what her family has gone through and in giving her a new understanding of what it looks like to have a relationship with God.

I thought this was interesting because I have read books like this from a Christian perspective, but never a Jewish one. I also thought the style of the book was very interesting – I kept waiting for a big plot thing to happen, and there are important things that happen to the characters, but it’s a much more character-driven book than a plot-driven book. Most of the book is in Marne’s head, which gives us the opportunity to see her struggling and growing throughout the summer. I thought that the aunt and two of the cousins were particularly interesting characters, because they didn’t do everything right all of the time.

It took me about a day to read Strange Relations, and it was particularly interesting to read it just after finishing The Faith Club, which is about three women of different faiths who come together to talk about what they believe, hoping to find some common ground. A big theme of that book is that the women are on a journey in their relationships with God. Strange Relations is really about Marne taking a first step in that relationship after observing the journeys that her relatives are taking in their faith.

I’d recommend this book for people who, like me, enjoy stories about religion and faith, with the caveat that it’s not a big dramatic book. I enjoyed it, but not at all in the way that I expected.

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