Lynn Melnick has reviewed books for Publishers Weekly and Boston Review, and has published poetry in Boston Review, Paris Review, Crowd, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with her husband and daughters.
Not Crazy About Goy Crazy
Review of Goy Crazy by Melissa Schorr (Hyperion, 2006).
Let's get right to it: the title of Melissa Schorr's debut young adult novel, Goy Crazy, is dreadful. More than that, it is offensive. In Hebrew the word "goy" translates as "nation" or "people," but it is too frequently used negatively toward non-Jews or even Jews who are deemed less religious than they should be. I am a less-than-religious Jew who is married to a Catholic man, and having Schorr's book on our coffee table for the past week has felt uncomfortable at best. I object to the use of any term that collectively describes a group of people as an "other," and which has the added effect of segregating the very user of the term. However tempting it may have been for Schorr to use the word in her punny title, it is surprising that she, and her publisher Hyperion Books, allowed it to press this way, in a book geared toward teenagers.
It's a shame too, because Schorr's novel can be enjoyably funny, and it does bring up several issues that would be of interest to any teen living in our contemporary, diverse culture, as well as issues that are just inherent to being an adolescent. Smart, thoughtful Rachel Lowenstein lives with her liberal, Jewish, overprotective parents in the affluent Riverdale section of the Bronx, and attends a largely Jewish public high school, where she longs to have a boyfriend and spends much of her time wondering if her stellar grades, flat chest, and frizzy hair are keeping her from popularity and love. Her parents would be thrilled to see her with upstanding Howard Goldstein, her longtime neighbor whom she has known since childhood but whom she rejects in favor of a mad crush on Luke Christiansen, the charming, handsome, not-so-subtly named boy from her neighborhood who attends nearby St. Joseph's Academy.
Along the way, Rachel must make Difficult Choices and learn Important Life Lessons, all of which the reader can see coming a mile away, but which the author nonetheless takes her time getting to, including the idea, drummed into teen girls' heads by teachers, parents and most teen media, that the most important thing to be in life is yourself. To her credit, Schorr doesn't make Luke a complete lout, but which boy she ends up with should be fairly obvious to anyone who has ever read a teen novel, or even adult "chick-lit."
Chief among her schemes to become popular is to start failing Geometry, believing that if she appears less smart to her peers, especially the boys, she will be better liked. Even she can see the stupidity behind this plan: "I can't believe the subject I used to kick ass in keeps busting my butt. How did I become one of these real-life Barbies who giggle and say 'math is hard'? It's such a lame cliché." One can't help but agree with Rachel, who rejects this silliness by the end of the book, though the lesson real-life teens might take away is worrisome: a working formula for popularity could prove irresistible.
Worrisome as well are Schorr's sketchily drawn characters. The Jewish characters tend to fall into two stereotypes: nerdy and studious or vain and materialistic. The Catholic teens on the other hand are quite party-oriented and academically average, with absentee parents and a tendency to spike the egg nog. I found myself cringing at the goofy Jewish kids and shallow Catholic kids alike. In life, of course, people are more complex than this, something that teenagers have figured out well before their senior prom.
But the writing itself in Goy Crazy can be quite good at times. Schorr is a wry, breezy writer, who has a knack for believable teen dialogue and a delicate touch with pressing teen concerns like drinking, sex, and the changing nature of friendships. Given her promise, let's hope the next time around she tackles these issues less glancingly and with a truer-to-life cast of characters, diverse not only in background but in character traits as well.