Book Review

The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen

The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen

  • Author: Isaac Blum
  • Genre: YA Contemporary
  • Publication Date: September 13, 2022
  • Publisher: Philomel

Thank you to Philomel and Penguin Random House for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: antisemitism, violence, hate crimes, gun violence, blood, murder, PTSD

Friendship. Betrayal. Hatred.

Hoodie Rosen’s life isn’t that bad. Sure, his entire Orthodox Jewish community has just picked up and moved to the quiet, mostly non-Jewish town of Tregaron, but Hoodie’s world hasn’t changed that much. He’s got basketball to play, studies to avoid, and a supermarket full of delicious kosher snacks to eat. The people of Tregaron aren’t happy that so many Orthodox Jews are moving in at once, but that’s not Hoodie’s problem.

That is, until he meets and falls for Anna-Marie Diaz-O’Leary—who happens to be the daughter of the obstinate mayor trying to keep Hoodie’s community out of the town. And things only get more complicated when Tregaron is struck by a series of antisemitic crimes that quickly escalate to deadly violence.

As his community turns on him for siding with the enemy, Hoodie finds himself caught between his first love and the only world he’s ever known.

Isaac Blum delivers a wry, witty debut novel about a deeply important and timely subject, in a story of hatred and betrayal—and the friendships we find in the most unexpected places.

I first heard about this book in a bookstagram post about upcoming Jewish book releases, and I desperately wanted a copy. I was heartbroken to see that it wasn’t on NetGalley, and had practically given up on getting an ARC of this, when I received an email from someone in the publicity department offering me a copy. Naturally, I jumped at the chance since I knew I’d enjoy the book, but I had no idea how much I’d love it. Besides, how could I resist this cover? It’s got an Orthodox Jewish boy on the cover of a traditionally published YA book, and it’s beautiful!

Blum has a sardonic, sarcastic, and laugh-out-loud funny way of writing, even while discussing the most serious topics. I found myself flying through the story, and read the entire book in a single sitting. This was one of those books that I couldn’t put down, and loved the way that Hoodie navigates the two worlds that he simultaneously inhabits—that of his Orthodox Jewish community, and the larger community surrounding it, which includes the non-Jewish people living in Tregaron. He also has a beautiful way of explaining so many of the concepts of Judaism that aren’t always well-known to people outside of the Jewish community, making them accessible to people who aren’t familiar with Jewish beliefs and customs. For example, the way that Hoodie explains the way the Written Torah and the Oral Torah dictate Jewish traditions in easy to understand modern terms:

“Jewish tradition is based around Torah. There are two Torahs. God gave one of them to Moses on Mount Sinai. That’s the Written Torah, and it was presented to Moses freshly printed and collated. The other Torah is the Oral Torah. I guess God didn’t have enough time to write it down—dude is busy—so he just kind of whispered it to Moses as a P.S. Moses, who left Egypt without his laptop charger, didn’t have the chance to type it up. So he just told people about it.”

Moving from his all-Jewish neighborhood to the mixed area of Tregaron, Hoodie is forced to face people who live differently for him for the first time. It’s his initial exposure to people who don’t follow the same traditions as he does, people who hold different beliefs and people who live differently, and it’s also his first time confronting antisemitism. As he starts to form his own opinions about people different from him, he starts to think differently than his peers for perhaps the first time ever. And we get to see that while Orthodox Jews may look different and even act differently than “mainstream” Americans in a lot of ways, he’s also just like teenage boys in even more ways: he plays basketball, slacks at school, teases his friends, struggles with his siblings and the pressures placed on him by his place in the family, and eats like a bottomless pit. However, he’s also dealing with his own questions about religion and spirituality, and doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable talking to anyone in the community. But he relates how he feels about this new wrench in his comfortable existence (Anna-Marie’s presence) to how he feels about his best friend—he may not always like him, but there is value in having the relationship in his life:

“Everything about Anna-Marie offended me: the way she dressed, her joke about her father’s grave, the lawn sign in her yard. But it’s like I was saying about Moshe Tsvi; you don’t have to like your friends. I could be deeply offended by Anna-Marie and still want to spend all of my time with her.”

But as Hoodie keeps getting to know this girl, he starts to face negative consequences. The Orthodox Jewish community tends to rely on cohesiveness to keep members in line, and people who don’t follow the rules face being shunned. And Hoodie is slapped with plenty of consequences at home, at school, and in his small society in the wake of an antisemitic attack. He’s separated from his classmates and then has to face what winds up being a major rabbi in the area. I couldn’t help but laugh when Hoodie describes him in this way:

“Rabbi Shneur Yechezkel Taub was like the final boss of rabbis. If you beat him, you won Judaism.”

However, despite all the humor, Blum tackles some serious topics in this story. Hate, violence, and betrayal all play major roles in the book, and they’re handled carefully and beautifully. This book echoes real life events that happened not so long ago, and hit really close to home. I loved how the story was expanded and put a real and relatable face to the community involved. This is easily my favorite book of the month, and it’s going to be one that I highly recommend to everyone. 

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