This is the first book I’ve read from Naomi Ragen and I’m so glad I did. Thank you to St. Martin’s press for putting this gem in my hands and introducing me to this wonderful author. In the first scene, Leah (formerly Lola) Howard is sitting in a Rabbi’s office. After losing a fiancé to a freak accident and a serious boyfriend to infidelity, she has turned to faith for healing, decided to become Orthodox. The story immediately takes off as we follow Leah through the difficult assimilation process. Soon after she arrives in Boro Park, Brooklyn, she begins volunteering to help the family of Yaakov Lehman, a recent widower, tidying up his home and caring for his smaller children several times a week. Learning about him only through clues she finds in his home and things his children say, she becomes intrigued about who he is. When Leah and Yaakov finally meet in person, they both immediately deny their instant connection. How could they possibly be a match? He is a from a well respected family in the community and she is an outsider who has eaten forbidden foods, caroused on Shabbat, and slept with numerous men. At its heart this a romance story—there’s no questions about how the story will end—but getting there is immersive and completely enjoyable. I loved reading about all of the details of the Boro Park Haredi community. Ragen has done enormous research to make sure she gets the details right and it shows. Her running commentary and observations about the ways and traditions of the insular community are insightful, intriguing and balanced. The shifting perspective also allows the reader to see different sides of the same story and come to their own conclusions. This book will be released in September…put it on your to be read list now so you don’t forget. You’ll thank me!
Naomi' Ragen’s book pairs perfectly with Shitisel, an addictive Israel series on Netflix everyone is talking about. If you are interested in peeking behind the curtain of the insular Orthodox community, this show is for you. But this one takes place in Mea Shearim, the Haredi section of Jerusalem. Centered around Akiva Shtisel, a twenty something single man, his father, a recent widower, and Akiva’s big. family, this show delivers everything you could ever want. Drama, comedy, secrets, lies, heartbreak and triumph. I am watching the show with my ten and thirteen year old sons, who are loving it despite the subtitles and foreign setting. At the end of every show, we all say the same thing, “That was a really good one.” The writing is clever and nuanced and the characters are complex and fascinating. I heard a rumor there might be a third season in the works. Fingers crossed!