We have nearly finished reading The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden by Robert Avrech. I was a little skeptical when I ordered it from the library, but the reviews were all so high I thought I'd give it a try. Most Jewish children's fiction that is written from an orthodox perspective is, well, bad. Other Jewish fiction from a less traditional source barely delves into the religious life of the character at all, or is so non-traditional that I just can't read it.
This book is a wonderful, sometimes humorous, often touching story of a boy from a Russian shtetl who escapes the pogroms in Russia to arrive in Arizona to face dangers of a different sort. The boy is a young man grounded in tradition and it informs all of his actions. The book warmly explores multicultural understanding without ever being trite or annoyingly "politically correct." Someone who does not know anything about Judaism will find it immensely accessible and very educational. All the Judaism in it rings true.
The conversations are smart. The Jewish aspects are not forced at all. They are an organic part of the story. We have two chapters left, and it has been a long while since I have enjoyed reading a book this much. I will be very sad when it is over. It is Mr. Avrech's first novel, and I hope there are many, many more to come.
Another touching note - the main character, Ariel, is named after the author's son who died of cancer when he was 22. Mr. Avrech wrote the novel in the midst of his grief. I can't recommend this book enough. One of the best laughs - Ariel serving up his mother's kugel and cholent to Doc Holliday (as in Gunfight at the OK Corral). Funny. I just love, love, love this book.