Penguin Group New York, NY 2013
Sammy Greenburg starts this story with his head in the toilet. This is Junior High at its finest and in the midwest it’s the Jewish kid who’s being racially profiled by the class bullies. This is a madcap adventure exploring themes of spirituality, friendship, music, and dealing with those bullies.
Not only is Sammy Jewish, but he has a passion for music. Specifically he’s crazy about Klezmer bands. He plays the clarinet – the voice of Klezmer – and is rather talented. He also has an incredibly smart mouth and a fondness for words. He collects them, which gives the authors a great excuse to define them for their readers who might find their vocabularies stretched.
Sammy is at that age where he needs to have Bar Mitzvah. The rabbi his parents have found we’ve already met in the prequel at the beginning of the book. His story revolves around the recreation of the Golem. This is not Tolkien, but rather the story of Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late-16th-century rabbi of Prague. When Sammy hears the story it captures his imagination, and since his father is a potter……..
Eventually the school misfits all find each other. We have our hero Sammy, the clarinetist; Skink, a mixed race black/korean military kid with a keen hand at guitar; Julia who can make a violin cry and who it turns out is also Jewish, and eventually Erik, the smart kid who got caught up in the bad crowd, on drums. They manage to create a Klezmer/jazz/pop/rock fusion band that rocks the school.
The golem is also at the heart of Sam’s story. Like his namesake Samson, from his Torah section, Sam has to learn what it means to be strong. He needs to learn about sacrifice and about giving back. He needs to find a way to embrace the best of who he is. Isn’t that what coming of age is all about?