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Reviewed by Brenda Daniels for Readers' Favorite
Jewbilly is a hilarious, well-paced tale about how young Yosef Bamberger finally enters manhood. Twelve-year-old Yosef and his orthodox Jewish family live happily in 1970s New York. But a year before Yosef is due to have his much-anticipated Bar Mitzvah, Yosef’s father, Murray, moves the family away from their comfortable Jewish life in Brooklyn to hillbilly country, Tennessee. It is here where most of Jewbilly by Rick Rosenberg takes place. Here in Tennessee is where Yosef becomes best friends with redneck Calvin Macafee and Calvin’s mad, murderous, Christian father, Boone. Here is where Yosef eagerly ‘measures’ his masculine growth, has a publicly humiliating failed Bar Mitzvah, and also where, to his parents’ and grandparents’ horror, Yosef becomes a Christian. It is also here where Yosef reverts back to Judaism (hence the nickname Jewbilly) and finally has his Bar Mitzvah a year late in Pete’s Pizza Place after their Tennessee synagogue has fallen foul of arson.
Jewbilly has excellently drawn characters that grow as the story develops. Mostly told in the first-person from Yosef’s point of view, the story is interspersed with third-person accounts of each of Yosef’s family members and friends Calvin and Boone. It is these backstories that create depth and complexity to mother Sandy, father Murray, Holocaust survivor Gram, bantam-weight boxing champ Gramps, and sisters Lynn and Susan. I loved this richness and its appropriate placings in the story. Family love, respect for religious faith, flawed humanity, and sinister moments of anti-semitism shine throughout, all couched in wonderful humor and a complete lack of sentimentality. Rick Rosenberg is a talented writer who has created one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read. I highly recommend it.