By Jenny Meyerhoff
Available now from Farrar, Straus and Giroux
When I got a request for QUEEN OF SECRETS, I almost passed on it. It didn't look bad, but it looked typical. Then I came to the end of the blurb, which revealed that the story is based on the Book of Esther. I couldn't resist then, as Esther is my favorite book of the Bible.
Essie Green's estranged Uncle, Aunt, and cousin just moved back to town. They left due to a family disagreement (as mentioned in Jenny Meyerhoff's guest blog) and now seem like strangers instead of a second set of parents and a brother. Essie's uncle embraced religion and her grandfather rejected it in the wake of her parents' deaths. Essie grew up atheist and is uncomfortable with her family's religious expression.
The family storyline parallels the high school storyline. Micah, her cousin, joins the football team. The football team has problems with Micah's open Jewishness. They might get over it, but one senior - Harrison - keeps stirring them back up. His father raised him to play football professionally, but he's not good enough to attract the decision of Division I schools. He's ready to take his misfortune out on someone. Obviously different Micah is convenient.
Essie might stand up for her cousin earlier, but she doesn't want to ruin her chances with quarterback Austin King. I might find her an unlikeable character, but she does do quiet things to help Micah out. I do wish she noticed that Austin is constantly proves himself to be a nice guy. (And not a "Nice Guy".)
QUEEN OF SECRETS is predictable, like I expected, but it has two major strengths. 1) Austin is a guy worth pursuing and Essie's good taste allows the reader to forgive her for some of her bigger lapses in judgment. 2) The exploration of religion is nuanced, interesting, and unlike what most other YA novels offer. Meyerhoff never suggests that being Jewish is better or worse than anything else. But she does explore what religion offers people, particularly the connection to a community and history.
QUEEN OF SECRETS is quick and cute, but doesn't ask for you to totally disengage your brain. In my book that makes it good summer reading.