ACHUKA Book of the Day 17 Dec 2020
This book may be more than twenty years old but, as Kirkus said of the original publication in 1998, “its message is one that always bears repeating.” I dipped into the opening chapter expecting to read only the first few pages (ACHUKA generally prefers to highlight books that are making their first appearance) but ended up being swept along by the force of the main character. The book is told in the third person but is very much Melissa’s story. Sherman writes with pace and elan, making this an ideal novella for a journey or a wet afternoon. No, it’s not Newbery or Carnegie Medal material and reading it may be a little like deciding to watch an old movie on TV instead of a contemporary drama, but sometimes old movies hit the spot.
Melissa Jensen is unprepared when life takes a turn for the seemingly tragic: her father (a playwright and college lecturer) accepts a teaching assignment in a small town in the Midwest, far from her home and friends (and bagels) in New York City. She’s too old to throw a tantrum, and her father’s offer of letting her live in New York with her grandparents is simply not an option. No way will she follow their strict Orthodox Jewish rules when her own parents didn’t even make her go to Hebrew school.
Melissa’s reluctant arrival in Henryville brings some surprises. To her amazement, the college town offers more than she ever anticipated, including a fantastic school orchestra and the chance to star in the school play. And then there’s Daniel Goodman, the remarkable boy who shares Melissa’s passion for acting and playing the violin. Everything seems too good to be true until Melissa comes across something she has never experienced before – antisemitism. No one in the school suspects she is Jewish, but when Daniel is taunted by a bigoted schoolmate, Melissa must make a decision. Her choice to speak out should be clear-cut, but life is never that simple. The Violin Players examines the price we pay when bigotry is met with silence.