It is the now-classic story of two fathers and two sons and the pressures on all of them to pursue the religion they share in the way that is best suited to each. And as the boys grow into young men, they discover in the other a lost spiritual brother, and a link to an unexplored world that neither had ever considered before. In effect, they exchange places, and find the peace that neither will ever retreat from again . . . Quoted from Goodreads
I'll admit, I first picked this up for a 10th grade English assignment. I didn't love it at first. I mean, you expect to read great, classic literature in an English class, but classic doesn't always mean enjoyable. They always have some great message or are excellently written, etc. I'm not arguing that, and I'm always glad I read what I was assigned. It exposed me to a lot of excellent stuff and led me on to other books I absolutely loved. Still a lot of them were one time reads for me. The Grapes of Wrath? Yeah, glad I read it but I won't be picking that one up again. Once was enough, though it did convince me I did need to read more John Steinbeck.
Still, this book I absolutely fell in love with. We were supposed to read something like three chapters a week, I don't remember. I kept that reading schedule for two weeks before throwing it out the window and finishing the whole thing. I simply couldn't put it down.
I think it did an amazing job of exploring the WWII time period and what it was like to be an American Jew. It also exposed me to Judaism in a way no other book has. I'm not Jewish, and I've only known a few people who are. I've read a lot of books with Jewish main characters, a good portion of which take place in Europe during WWII, and I took a religions of the world class and studied their religion for about a month. All of it was interesting but none of it immersed me into their world and belief system so much as this book.
That's not to say it's whole focus was religion. It's probably about relationships more than anything. Reuven and Danny's relationship, Danny's relationship with his father, Reuven's with his, Danny's with his younger brother, Danny and Reuven's with their neighbors, members of their synagogue, and God himself. They're all examined and explored in detail. This could have been quite a specific book for a narrow audience, but it's not. The ideas he explores in this very Jewish environment echo across different situations and spectrums of belief.
I admit I read a lot of light young adult books. I go more for action, mythology, romance, laughs and adventure over the heart breaking ones that explore hard issues. Despite what I post here, I do still actually read those type of books. I've probably read three-fourths of the newberry award books ever published, and I absolutely adore some of the classics. Like the summary of the book says, this book is a classic. If you're looking for something that expands your mind and explores belief and friendship, you need to read this. It may take a few chapters to get into it, but it's beautifully written, with timeless themes and great messages.