4 out of 4 stars
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The Jewish Ninja by Allegra Coleman is a book for teens that introduces them to Judaism. Alexia Bonet is very stylish, creative, and twelve years old. She’s also an amazing martial artist who puts her all into everything she does. If only mom wasn’t so unsupportive! All Alexia wants to do is focus on her upcoming black belt competition, but her mother decides planning a big birthday party for her is more important. After an argument, Alexia finally gets her way. Alexia feels on top of the world until an unexpected tragedy sends her life into a tailspin. Suddenly, Alexia must let go of everything she held most dear. Her school, her friends, her home, her hobbies, and her family. Alexia moves in with her Jewish grandparents who immediately begin to teach her about her heritage and traditions. She struggles to make friends at her new school and relate to this foreign culture she finds herself in. It’s not until a group of thugs begins terrorizing the neighborhood that Alexia realizes she must do something. She becomes the Jewish Ninja!
When I first read the synopsis for this book, I thought it would be a relatively straightforward account of a girl who becomes a ninja hero. I was pleasantly surprised by the author’s creativity and ability to keep the story fresh and interesting. Alexia and nearly every character she interacts with seem realistic and well-developed. I also enjoyed learning about Judaism with Alexia. The author does an excellent job of incorporating the Jewish traditions into the story and defining any Yiddish words and phrases Alexia encounters. After reading, I had more of an understanding and appreciation for the traditions of the Jewish people. It felt like I was getting invited into their world, which was very nice, particularly since (in my experience) Jewish culture isn’t readily shared with people outside of it.
Where the author might encounter some criticism is in her portrayal of non-Jews. Far-leftists have managed to get Speedy Gonzales and other “racially insensitive” media censored, which I mention only because Alexia compares a Latino to that character specifically. She also asserts that making fun of an accent is not making fun of the ethnicity, another topic up for debate. There is also Alexia’s white girlfriend who can’t say anything Yiddish correctly. I wouldn’t consider the author’s views politically correct, but I wouldn’t consider them deliberately prejudiced either. Rather, they seem like views that were widely held and accepted at one time, but are no longer considered okay by some segments of society. One other thing I must mention is sexual references. There were two, one in which Alexia’s mother gives an account of being forcefully kissed by a man, and Alexia witnesses a thug getting his privates pierced. It wasn’t overly graphic, but considering this content is for teens, it might offend some parents to have these things take place in the book. There are also three instances of minor language.
The above paragraph seems a tad harsh, but those events are really such a small part of this overall wonderful little story. I enjoyed every chapter I read. I never got bored, which is saying something. Not even J.K. Rowling could avoid that in the Harry Potter books. Alexia is spunky and unique, clever and innovative. She’s not invincible, she’s relatable and plays to her strengths. I really liked the author’s approach to growing up, overcoming personal loss, regrets, and being able to forgive. In one of the last chapters, Alexia attends the Jewish New Year and has a conversation about forgiveness with her friend and Rabbi. This was my favorite chapter in the entire story. I found it touching to the point I actually cried. It was very moving and heartfelt, experiencing this young girl let go of her guilt and start to become a young woman. This is one of the best coming of age novels I’ve read in some time. I applaud the author’s originality and strong characterizations of Alexia, her grandparents, and Rabbi Goodblatt.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. Errors were minimal, so I could tell the book was professionally edited. I enjoyed reading this story and experiencing Alexia’s adventures as a ninja as she learned about her heritage. I think Jewish teens in particular will enjoy this novel, but the author makes the religion accessible to even the most uneducated. I never struggled to understand what was going on. There are some touchy subjects addressed like violence, crime, harassment, bullying, and loss, which may bother more sensitive readers. This is a book about growing up, being a hero, and learning how to forgive. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a fun novel full of interesting characters and discussions about life, overcoming tragedy, and Jewish traditions.
The Jewish Ninja
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