OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy is one of those books that could easily be someone's favorite. It's cover is cute, entertaining and appealing to tweens (it's target audience) and its title is fantastic. It's insides are just as appealing, a speech and debater (seriously, first book I've read about one of my favorite extra-curriculars) who is Jewish must hide her identity to attend an all Christian speech and debate camp. It tackles the issues of race and religion and honesty...or does it?
And, that's were this book kind of leaves me, well, a little peeved. Ellie has been raised by her Jewish family and although she is raised Jewish, she doesn't question it, until being Jewish means losing a scholarship to a prestigious, definitely Christian, high school. From the very beginning we see Ellie as a strong-willed girl and then we see this girl become less willful and, well, less truthful as the Christian camp progresses. She begins to hide her Jewish grandmother's cross and is embarrassed by her very Jewish Zeydeh (her eccentric grandfather).
I sort of understand why her parents would allow her to lie about her religious affiliation, if they would have protested too much she would have done it anyway, but they don't really talk to her about what it means to be Jewish or about what it means to be Christian. In this respect they seem like good-natured hippies and I bought that. But, if they're so good-natured why must Ellie be anything at all? In fact, it seems that all the Christians in this book are in some ways the villains of the piece...because of an incident long ago, Doris hates all Jewish people, so much so that she wants to punish them horribly and Ellie's Lutheran grandparents seem to be those crazy Christians who feel that their son 'dun did 'em wrong' by raising Ellie Jewish only. Her father talks to her a little bit about how he doesn't go to church because he feels spiritual in the great outdoors gardening and such, but she doesn't say much about where she feels most spiritual. And, why is Ellie only Jewish, just because her father leans towards wanting no religion that doesn't mean they shouldn't teach her all they know, instead of just assuming she will be?
The story itself is adorable and the characters are developed and believable. Ellie has never been challenged before and there are speech and debaters there who are better than her. The speech she gives at the end is poignant and would truly convince any kid waffling on either side of the issue to chose one...Ellie is two cultures, yet she must give up one to be the other. As a person of mixed heritage I find that, well, sad.
Hmmm...maybe that's the true problem I have with this book...the fact that Ellie chooses a side. I like the novel Kissing Kate because it gives us all the information and definitely tells us were the main character is leaning, but allows us to see it for ourselves. Lissa is still learning and questioning, therefore so must we. I like that ending. Teaching kids to question is the best part of teaching. I'm not sure this book does that.
I suppose if Jewish kids are reading this it is important for them to identify with Ellie and her family and then understand that being Jewish is their heritage and their identity. And, that would have worked had Ellie not been part Lutheran and if Ellie hadn't had family members (ie. her Lutheran grandparents) to talk to about their religion. She never does talk to them, by the way, she only goes to church once and the whole time she sees both she and Jesus as outsiders.
All of that being said, I think that OyMG is a great book for those middle grade kids who may see that Ellie is truly conflicted, to me that did come across very well.