At almost thirteen, Alex Mariner faces a crisis of faith. Months away from his Bar Mitzvah, Alex struggles with his portion of the Torah, the Hebrew words sticking in his throat. He begins to question his religion, and in his household sees no one with whom he can comfortably discuss these issues.
Imagining his life years into the future, the story begins as Alex contrasts himself with his siblings, and how he would like things to be. Older sister Grey - she sparks, she’s the one in control. The world notices Grey. Zeke, the oldest of the three, acts like all is a good time, at least with the parents around, and Alex, well, he says his family doesn’t even notice when he’s gone. He takes solace in his friendships - with Matters, who doesn’t always keep his temper, jumping in when his friend needs help; and with Poppy, the young woman to whom he is attracted. He’s known Matters and Poppy all his life, but he begins to pull away from the two.
“If I had the power, I would make Zeke talk about himself as Barfing Stooge….I have no power. When I’ve got the power, there will be no jockstraps. Give everyone an equal playing fear,” Alex says in his introduction to life with his siblings.
At first, Zeke treats Alex the way many older brothers probably treat their younger siblings at one time or another, pushing him around, pushing him emotionally, but over time, Zeke’s treatment of Alex changes. The situation goes from a normal sibling fight situation to the point where Alex becomes Zeke’s punching bag, and it takes a while for the family to step in.
Facing a momentous occasion, young Alex seeks guidance, however uneasy he may be about that search, especially when it leads him to his older sister’s boyfriend, Merriman Winter. The older boy takes Alex under his wing, with trips to Starbucks, or to other various places. Alex finds something he did not have with Poppy and Matters, his lifelong friends. It is in this friendship with Merriman that Alex finds the comfort zone he’s looking for, to ask his questions about God, about life in general.
At one point in the novel, Alex admits just how little he believes. “I was having a Bar Mitzvah, I admit, for the money, and for my family. Not for God. Not for my faith, which I was dead sure didn’t exist.”
Beam’s 2004 novel looks at deep issues from an interestingly honest perspective but doesn’t force answers on readers, instead allowing them to draw their own conclusions.
In the months leading up to his Bar Mitzvah, the situation with Zeke gets dangerous, and the Mariner parents, who seem relatively unobtrusive throughout the novel, see just how their oldest son has brutalized their youngest. Beam captures the spirit of sibling relations perfectly.
Grey admits that she’s turned from Judaism to Christianity, even sneaking to church with Merriman and reading the Bible. This new knowledge meshes with what Alex is going through. Beam’s novel is an engaging and thought-provoking work that deserves five stars.
Kosher is Kimberly Beam’s first novel.