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BookBrowse Reviews The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen by Isaac Blum

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The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen

by Isaac Blum

The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen by Isaac Blum X
The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen by Isaac Blum
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2022, 224 pages

    Oct 2023, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Tina Choi
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About this Book



He may be a criminal, an outcast and clueless, but it's hard not to fall in love with Hoodie Rosen.

That irreplaceable feeling of everyone knowing your name. The yearning to be anonymous. Parents telling you that every single thing you do reflects on them. Family loyalty above all. This is just a snippet of the conflicting emotions, values and experiences Hoodie Rosen and his friends encounter in Isaac Blum's debut young adult novel, The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen.

The book focuses on the specifics of daily life in an Orthodox Jewish community, as Blum portrays details ranging from Borsalino hats to Tu B'Av (referred to as the Jewish day of love), Jewish law (known as halacha) and the intricacies of ritual hand washing. Rather than exoticizing these details for a general audience or writing only to a familiar one, the author shares them through the eyes of both Hoodie and Anna-Marie, a gentile girl and daughter of the mayor who wants Hoodie's community out of the town of Tregaron, where they plan to develop a high rise and bring in Jewish stores, kosher restaurants and a new synagogue. Some non-Jewish locals interpret this as an invasion, and lines are drawn throughout the area as the two sides square off.

Yet amongst the division, Hoodie falls for Anna-Marie. Their clandestine meetings remind one of Romeo and Juliet, with the difference being that these two star-crossed lovers discuss each other's families and cultures in poignant, thought-provoking and humorous conversations. Hoodie doesn't own a smartphone, which leads to hilarious tutorials on Anna-Marie's part. Anna-Marie gets a quick lesson on the miracles of kosher Starburst. While Hoodie is troubled by how isolating and rigid his culture appears to Anna-Marie, he also realizes its traditions are what intimately connect him to his people. Through his thoughtful first-person narrative, Orthodox Judaism is explored with humor and grace.

Chapter breaks give us the chance to reflect on the daily conflicts and threats Hoodie endures, and the formatting is an unforgettable feature of Blum's novel. Each chapter is introduced with an irresistible teaser ("Chapter 1: in which I celebrate Tu B'Av by taking the first step toward my own ruination"), like the punchline of a joke but in reverse. Additionally, Blum intersperses chapters not with flashbacks but with flash-forwards, causing the reader to 1. Laugh because it's so darn weird, it's funny; 2. Admire Hoodie for stating his crimes outright, unlike your typical teenager; 3. Become curious enough to want to read further, especially when he mentions ending up in intensive care and "humiliating me and my family on a global scale." This blatant honesty endears Hoodie to the reader because, while he is sometimes foolish, his humorous confessions are laced with sincerity and innocence.

Blum's novel starts off slow, but is clever and provocative. At times, it turns a bit slapstick, almost as if trying to balance the gravity of the heartbreaking histories Hoodie shares. The narrative relates how in Ukraine, Russians swept through Hoodie's great-grandfather's shtetl, forcing survivors into conscripted service. His great-grandfather cut off his toes to avoid being drafted. Meanwhile, Moshe Tzvi, Hoodie's flippant best friend, can't help but deliver wisecracks to every question posed by their elders in school. Hoodie claims that he doesn't even like Moshe, despite his certainty that Moshe would "kill for him" if necessary. This dichotomy of humor and tragedy, familial love and violence, becomes the backbone of the novel, through which one sees there is no clear answer to how minority cultures can survive assimilation in mainstream America without repercussions or threats.

Is it worse to be stared at or invisible? How do you separate the individual from the collective? And is there really such a thing as antisemitic hash browns? The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen grapples with these fascinating issues in an absolutely heartfelt and astounding fashion.

Reviewed by Tina Choi

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in November 2022, and has been updated for the October 2023 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Simchat Torah


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