Publisher: Walker & Company (May 10, 2011)
Hardcover: 256 pages
Source: Publisher (ARC)
Jewish girl. Christian camp. Holy moley.
Ellie Taylor loves nothing better than a good argument. So when she gets accepted to the Christian Society Speech and Performing Arts summer camp, she's sure that if she wins the final tournament, it'll be her ticket to a scholarship to the best speech school in the country. Unfortunately, the competition at CSSPA is hot-literally. His name is Devon and, whether she likes it or not, being near him makes her sizzle. Luckily she's confident enough to take on the challenge-until she begins to suspect that the private scholarship's benefactor has negative feelings toward Jews. Will hiding her true identity and heritage be worth a shot at her dream?
Debut author Amy Fellner Dominy mixes sweet romance, surprising secrets, and even some matzo ball soup to cook up a funny yet heartfelt story about an outspoken girl who must learn to speak out for herself.
My Thoughts: I didn’t start OyMG with sky-high expectations, or with any, really. Hot boy competition and learning self-confidence? Light read, check. But don’t let the brief, innocent summary deceive you; even while swaddled in layers of fluff and goodness, OyMG teaches meaningful lessons in self-identity and self-discovery that, days after reading it, still linger pleasantly in the back of my mind.
In a society that so freely advocates equality, it’s sometimes easy to think of racial and religious discrimination as things of the past. Yet while no longer at the Nazi-level, prejudice still exists, and that’s what Amy Dominy capitalizes on in her debut novel. In OyMG, a seemingly insignificant prejudice against Jews leads to so much more: family splintering, teen relationship troubles, and the required internal struggle. It’s not soap opera drama and rivers of tears; rather, the magic lies in how this small prejudice slowly and subtly infiltrates Ellie’s life, growing from a little check-box on a pink scholarship application to a huge family affair.
Although the underlying religious tension carries the plot, OyMG is made awesome by Ellie’s strong voice and genuine main characters. Ellie and I are different on so many levels: she’s a debater while I can barely speak in public, she’s Jewish while I’m atheist, and so much more. Yet I could definitely relate as she struggled to define herself by her own standards. She’s like the best friend I never had who could chew out someone’s butt if she chose to – and quite literally. Her debate skills are sharp and she’s not afraid to use them, whether to intelligently flirt with dreamy Devon or to win herself a scholarship.
My only issue with Ellie (and my only issue in the entire book) was the discrepancy I saw between her age and her deep insight. As in, think (the movie, but I’m using it as a saying) “13 going on 30.” While her actions revealed the naivety of a young teen, Ellie’s intelligence, rhetoric skill, and collected aura all belied the fact that she was an incoming ninth grader. Half the time I forgot she’s only about 13 and was subsequently frustrated when she didn’t show the maturity I expect in someone older.* But if that’s what eighth/ninth graders are like these days, they are debate-refined beasts.
That’s not to forget Devon, who’s (a) pretty beast himself. He can match Ellie’s sass, no problem, as well as any physical expectations. Yet my second favorite character has to be Zeydeh, Ellie’s grandfather, who happens to be utterly fabulous. He’s like the blue flamingo in the room that you just can’t ignore because it’s unique, stubbornly ostentatious, and cares more about taking a dump than what other people think of him. It’s obvious Zeydeh cares deeply for Ellie as he introduces a whole new Jewish twist on tough love, and he’s such a macho cutie. The man has personality, and that’s hard to find in a light read.
Outside of Ellie and Zeydeh, the other characters, though not particularly standout, are still enjoyable and real. However, the book’s brilliance lies in how Amy Dominy is able to make such a fun, unassuming novel so meaningful and relatable. While almost unbearably cute (think Sean Griswold’s Head cute), OyMG really leaves a lasting impression on why we should always say “no” to discrimination and the importance of family. (/cue content sighs please.) In fact, if offered to me a few years back, reading OyMG would probably have been way more effective in reinforcing these lessons than any Martin Luther King speech my middle school forced us to watch. As inspirational as MLK’s speeches are, it was hard for my younger brain to personally connect and sympathize with a small, poetic (aka hard to understand) figure on a black-and-white screen.
With its young voice, clean humor, and relatable characters, OyMG is a feel-good, modern take on an age-old issue that’s depth shouldn’t be overlooked just because of a cute cover and a tad cliché summary.
Liked: Ellie & Zeydeh, nicely-paced plot, solid lessons, fuzzy feelings
Disliked: meh, Ellie's age wasn't that believable for me, but I suppose the plot wouldn't have worked so well otherwise.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Bottom Line: OyMG is a lovable read that skillfully mixes the harshness of reality with the drama of teen life. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a light yet substantial read, or for a fun book to instill moral values in children (of whatever relation)**. Really, anyone, as OyMG isn't about religion per se as much as it is about discrimination as a whole. And Zeydeh is so darn sassy. Amazing debut!
Cover: Not stunning, but I think it matches the feel of the book perfectly and it has all the important components: mic, medal, Christian cross, etc. Though I imagined Ellie with curlier/frizzier hair...
* I seem to often have issues with naïve main characters, but I’m impatient and working on it, sigh.
** I abused the parentheses button in this review, sorry. *pats my ( ) keys*
Courtesy of Bloomsbury Walker & Co., I have one finished copy of OyMG to giveaway to a lucky reader! :)
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