MemberMay 18, 2020 at 7:57 pm
A very powerful opening image. “I remember the day I met Henna”. Short, concise, full of intrigue, with the reader hooked on to which direction the story will go. In a matter of a few sentences you introduced the one of the main plots of the novel, but through action rather than telling. Also I liked that in a sentence or two the family became alive, physical appearance of characters, family dynamics between the father and Shayna, and between Shayna and her sister Raizy. The scene of Shayna gradually finding out what she knew already but wanted to escape from is depicted so realistically, the neighbor Pani Klar hustling and bustling.
Shayna’s running away from the deadening reality she was now entering, is typical of a young child who is full of life, imagination, shrewd but at the same time still a child with child-like beliefs, wanting to hang on to her innocent carefree childhood as long as she still had the one person who understood. The description of Shayna’s taking out from her pocket, when things seemed so bleak, the gift her mother had given her and the flashback to the scene where her mother had given the gift Shayna’s bewilderment as to how the Tehillim could possibly be a gift, it was worn and used, not brand new and how it would help her, is beautifully depicted and realistic.
The one thing I’m debating about is the age of Shayna’s age, of whether an eight year old could think and feel on so many levels, eg, the sentence:
Ki Tov Chasdecha M’Chaim- those precious words of Dovid HaMelech. Hashem’s kindness is better than life- what better kindness does Hashem give us more than life itself- life- the opportunity to connect to the Aibeshter- Ki Tov Chasdecha M’Chaim- the fact that the Aibeshter has given us a gift is better than the gift itself!”
I wasn’t sure if I understood. But I knew, I knew, one day I would.
Would an eight year old have the wisdom to feel that one day she would understand?
I stared at the Tehillim, trying to decipher Mama’s message; but it alluded me.
Life did not seem like a gift now.
From these lines I can see the eight year old’s bewilderment, both at the almost parting message from the mother and the fact that life had become dark, certainly know gifts there.
I’m also reading the words the mother spoke to Shayna, the message she wanted to convey to her, I needed to read it a few times to understand what she was saying. The mother is saying very powerful words of an emunah and in between the lines, the reader can imagine the level of understanding and the power of her deep connection with Hashem that she, the mother, had reached, as she battled through her illness.
It’s interesting because one could speculate, if the mother knew that one day Shayna would understand the message of the posuk and how it related to her mother and how in the future, it would mean something to Shayna. That she knew Shayna well enough to know that Shayna, of all her children, would one day understand and live the message of closeness to Hashem, despite the loss of her mother, her closest advocate. Or if the mother was almost living in her own world, perhaps by then ravished from her sickness, detached from how young children actually feel or think. Still, she was passionate in imparting the message or more her legacy to Shayna no matter if she understood it or not.
I don’t know what age I would portray Shayna as. It could be that 8 is exactly the right age, where a child is navigating between childhood and slowly beginning to experience life that is not always sunny and rosy. It could be that Shayna is mature beyond her years, sharp witted, intuitive about how and what she feels and knows. She didn’t need any grown up to tell her her that she needed to face the tragedy in her own way, and capitulating to the good-hearted intentions of the neighbor would not provide Shayna with the emotional nourishment and security she so wanted and needed right now.
I like the way the reader can immediately pick up the era where the story takes place, maybe early 19oo’s, the place, Poland / maybe Hungarian/European/Shtetl life, chassidish, the long braids, the names of the Shayna and Henna, Raizy and the neighbor’s name Pani Klar, all these details give the reader clues to the physical setting/town/ country that the story takes place And the forest scene would allude to a rural life, rather than the city life.
Henna is an enigmatic character, there is an air of mystery about her, and yet Shayna intuitively trusts her and is able to throw off her grief for a few hours and become the rumble tumble child that Shayna is.
Very strong imagery and visuals, there is a natural flow and combination of dialogue and description makes the reader want to find out more.
As to your changing the age of the reader you are writing for from 9-12 to 12-15 age group, it could work, especially as I get the impression that Henna is in the 12 to 15 age range, and as I see it, has her own life peckel, but Henna is further along the way and the story hints to a developing friendship between Henna and Shayna, with Henna being able to bridge the grief Shayna feels. An initially mentoring relationship that gives Shayna relief from reality so that she can still be a child and tools to continue from the lines: (“I have a better question,” the red-haired girl said, “why don’t you come join me up here instead of moping down there?”)
Certainly Henna has some sort of dynamism that Shayna is instantly attracted to, by the fact that she trusted and somehow knew that Henna knew that her mother had died. And the air of mystery around Henna speaks of a young girl who has depth but also has things that she hides, her own dark skeletons she’s not ready to bring out into the open.