The Blood Lie by, Shirley Reva Vernick
It’s September 22, 1928, the Sabbath, and Jack Poole’s 16th birthday. In the synagogue that morning, he feels restless, stuck in a remote little whistle-stop town in upstate New York. But he doesn’t’ realize exactly how stuck he is until his little sister’s Gentile friend Daisy gets lost in the woods and he’s accused of killing her.
The Story: Sixteen year old Jack and his family are one of several Jewish families in the small town of Massena. He seems to be a talented, ambitious young man. Not quite fulfilled by the life he leads in Massena, working in his father’s dry goods store, not even the attention he receives from a lovely young Gentile, Emaline, is enough to appease his dreams of leaving the small town in upstate New York behind for the big city.
His dream of getting outta Dodge (or rather Messena) is entwined with his dream of a career in music. A talented cello player, Jack dreams of music being his ticket to a career in the field he loves along with it being his one way ticket out of the dry goods business. He remarks on how unfortunate it was that instead of Brooklyn or Boston, his father took a route that brought him to where his parents ultimately set roots and started their family. He fervently prepares for an upcoming audition in the near future for The Bentley School of music.
Alas, his dreams soon seem threatened as he becomes the prime suspect in the case of a missing little girl who is his little sister’s best friend.
My Take: I always ere on the side of revealing too much, and in this case if I share any more of this story I fear I’d spoil it rotten for the reader. So I’ll stop here and just share my reflections on this tale. My first read of this book (and I just want to preempt this for Ms. Reva-Vernick by saying this ends positively – I think – so bear with me) left me feeling I wanted more from the story. The subject at hand, i.e., discrimination, making assumptions about others merely for the fact that they are different than us, approaching a different culture or religion with fear and judgment because we don’t understand it seemed to have been managed on the surface; I wanted more. I felt I wanted to get more into the characters’ psyche, their feelings too felt managed on the surface.
Then my young son, not yet in middle school but near to it, asked if he could read the book. I’d read it and thought there was merit to it, particularly as he enters an age when his peers may begin to judge him more by mere surface factors, and as he enters a time when his world will expand and he will encounter people very different than himself.
Upon completing it I asked him what most stayed with him and his response left me a little impressed by him (and surprised at myself). He said it was the moment Jack was asked to forgive those who hurt him. It left enough of an impression in me that my young son arrived at this message to go back and read through the book once more. And he was right. Though it should have been apparent from the beginning, the concept of forgiveness is an important component of this book, brief but instrumental. It reads simply enough that I left it as an aside as I concentrated on the terrible wrongs that were done to Jack, his family, and the members of his synagogue. As I read the treacheries committed I myself may have mentally skipped this part having a hard time myself offering empathy to the irrational, ill-willed characters who fostered the fear in other members of the community leading to mass hysteria and ultimately adding fuel to the fire of hate and misunderstanding. And it was the voice of innocence that brought me back to the place of understanding that the The Blood Lie didn’t need more terrible details of what was done to that community. It is a story of a young Jewish man living in a time before “politically correct” was even a glimmer in the vernacular of society. In history books it seems people easily dehumanized those who were different from themselves and this is the crux of the matter explored here.
Crush Intensity: 3.75/ 5 — Though I still hold to the fact that for my taste I would have appreciated more development and insight into the characters, the message most likely intended by the author was delivered. I do think that, as revealed by the young sage evidently residing in my home, this book may speak more to a younger crowd, but when has that ever stopped me? I think this is a worthy book that would do anyone good to read.