From the publisher:
A Recommended Book From:
The New York Times * Good Morning America * Entertainment Weekly * Electric Literature * The New York Post * Alma * The Millions * Book Riot
A commanding debut and a poignant coming-of-age story about a devout Jewish high school student whose plunge into the secularized world threatens everything he knows of himself
Ari Eden’s life has always been governed by strict rules. In ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn, his days are dedicated to intense study and religious rituals, and adolescence feels profoundly lonely. So when his family announces that they are moving to a glitzy Miami suburb, Ari seizes his unexpected chance for reinvention.
Enrolling in an opulent Jewish academy, Ari is stunned by his peers’ dizzying wealth, ambition, and shameless pursuit of life’s pleasures. When the academy’s golden boy, Noah, takes Ari under his wing, Ari finds himself entangled in the school’s most exclusive and wayward group. These friends are magnetic and defiant—especially Evan, the brooding genius of the bunch, still living in the shadow of his mother’s death.
Influenced by their charismatic rabbi, the group begins testing their religion in unconventional ways. Soon Ari and his friends are pushing moral boundaries and careening toward a perilous future—one in which the traditions of their faith are repurposed to mysterious, tragic ends.
Mesmerizing and playful, heartrending and darkly romantic, The Orchard probes the conflicting forces that determine who we become: the heady relationships of youth, the allure of greatness, the doctrines we inherit, and our concealed desires.
I really wanted to like this book. It’s a debut novel written by a very bright young man. It’s set in my backyard, Miami, and is about an Orthodox Jewish family who moves from an Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn to a much less religious neighborhood in Miami. All things I usually find interesting.
It’s also a coming of age novel. The main character is Aryeh Eden, whose name quickly morphs to Ari in this new land. Ari’s mother was Jewish but not brought up religiously. She decided to become Orthodox, married, and had a son. Their Brooklyn neighborhood was filled with religious families like them. But Ari never really felt all that comfortable there. His mother, while acting frum (religiously observant) actually pushed Ari to read secular books, something that was frowned upon in their community. When his father, an accountant, loses his job in Brooklyn, he finds another job in Miami. Ari is happy to leave, even though he is in high school.
Their neighbors are more modern Orthodox, and Ari quickly makes friends in his new school. But he has never been around these types of students. They take secular classes, the school is co-ed, and they throw off their religious beliefs regularly, drinking, smoking, making out with girls. Yet as different as Ari feels, he also feels more like himself.
There is a lot of drama in this high school. I would think it too far-fetched but I suspect the author attended a similar type of school (write what you know?) There are a lot of firsts for Ari, and some of those firsts are quite disturbing. As a parent, I could not relate to his parents, who seemed fairly oblivious to what was going on around them.
There were many, many pages of philosophical discussions among these high school students, which I had a hard time grappling with, or believing of this age group, and worse, I found difficult to read. I found myself skimming pages at a time. The book dragged for me until I was about 75% of the way through. The last part of the book finally moved a little quicker as the denouement was reached.
I love finding new authors, especially ones like Hopen, who has such a unique voice. He reminds me most of a modern-day Chaim Potok, which is very high praise, or Gary Shteyngart. I don’t think he quite has his storytelling skills honed yet, but I also think this book is a promising start to what could well be a rewarding writing career. The author is at Yale Law School, so whether he follows that path or this, I’m sure he will be successful.
1/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
THE ORCHARD by David Hopen. Ecco (November 17, 2020). ISBN 978-0062974747. 480 pages.