A Gratifying Read for ‘Tweens and Teens Two New Books from Local Writer

By

Reviewed by Devorah Talia Gordon

Book review1

“Sliding Doors and Other Stories”
By Rebecca Klempner
For ages 11-16
105 pp.

Curling up with Rebecca Klempner’s collection of short stories, “Sliding Doors and Other Stories,” the tween or teen reader enters the typical Jewish world of yeshivas, yom tovim and family life. The familiar in Klempner’s stories is sometimes enigmatic, and other times truly fantastical. With mysterious doors and magical hourglasses, there is a common denominator – the reader is entertained, but left with a richer understanding of others or themselves.

In seventeen fiction pieces (some are sci-fi/fantasy) and one essay, Klempner explores fundamental themes, such as using time wisely, acquiring true friends, and living in the moment. Her characters are as diverse as her topics – they are Ashkenazi and Sephardi, boys and girls, and sometimes atypical kids.

One favorite is Chaim Mendel, an endearing teen with Asperger’s, who struggles with ‘itchy’ clothing, eats only beige food, and has trouble picking up on social cues. Chaim Mendel, as well as other characters, appear in various stories, so the reader gets the chance to revisit his or her favorites and almost chart their progress throughout the collection.

Even for readers like myself, who aren’t fans of sci-fi, Klempner’s fantastical stories are appealing. Through this medium, Klempner makes delicate topics easy to explore; the reader willingly enters a slightly askew reality where the implausible becomes possible. For example, in “The Door,” eleven-year-old Risa desperately wants her own bedroom, and goes through a mysterious door to another existence, one without her three annoying brothers and messy apartment. In her new apartment, there are no shoes, bike helmets and Lego pieces scattered everywhere. But Risa quickly discovers that the “perfect” life is far from it, without the existence of her brothers.

In the title story of the collection, “Sliding Doors,” Klempner weaves a gripping mystery; the main character Chaviva pieces together strange occurrences to solve the crime. Klempner’s goal is not just to entertain, but to explore the emotional world. This collection of well-crafted stories (they were almost all previously published in the top frum mags), though marketed for the tween and teen, will entertain and enlighten all ages.

Available at 613 Mitzvah Store and Amazon.com

Book review2

“Mazel’s Luck Runs Out”
By Rebecca Klempner
Novella for ages 8-11
60 pp.

“The day of my bat mitzvah party started off pretty much like every other summer day in L.A. – bright and sunny, with a delicious breeze. And then it started to get hot…
‘What’s wrong?’ Bluma asked.

‘I’m going to have to stand in front of all these girls and all my relatives and speak. What if my d’var Torah is no good?’‘You’ll be fine!’ she said… My relatives kept coming, and pretty soon, the living room was full. The old ladies talked in Farsi, the young girls in English, the whole room was buzzing…

And then the air conditioner, the lights, everything went out.
‘It’s a rolling blackout!’ moaned my grandmother.’My heart sank…”

So begins Mazal Tehrani’s bat mitzvah celebration, one of the most memorable moments in Rebecca Klempner’s novella, “Mazal’s Luck Runs Out.” Though her luck appears to have run out, Mazal manages, with the help of her family and best friend Bluma Friedman, to pull out gracefully from many adventures she has as an observant Persian girl growing up in L.A.

Young readers will easily relate to Mazal, with a great sense of humor, warmth and understanding of people that goes beyond her years. When asked about her ‘weird Persian food’ by a classmate, Mazal thinks, “People sometimes make fun of Persians around here. They call us names, complain when we speak Farsi, tell us our food is weird and stick us with lots of stereotypes. Sometimes it drives me crazy, but I’ve learned over the years not to lose my temper when it happens. It never helps.”

Though there are plenty of humorous moments, such as the one above, Klempner weaves in a significant amount of more serious issues, such as tzniut, financial hardships, and starting junior high without the comfort of one’s best friend in class. Through the use of a light tone and humor, Klempner is able to explore important subjects, ones that almost all girls, whether Sephardi or Ashkenazi, struggle with at some point in their adolescence.

Available at 613 Mitzvah Store and Amazon.com

(Disclaimer: This writer was privileged to read and provide feedback for an earlier rendition of “Mazal’s Luck Runs Out.”)