Well, this one is a tough one to review.
For the record, I am not Jewish so I cannot comment on whether this book portrays the Jewish experience in a correct light and if some of the things said in the book are correct. There are many, many people on Goodreads who are Jewish who have reviewed the book from that aspect so I would suggest seeking out their opinions on that aspect of the novel.
As far as a romance novel goes, this was just okay. I wasn’t wowed like I hoped to be. I have been trying to read some romances themed around holidays that aren’t Christmas and I’ve read some gay Hannukah themed romance before, so I thought to give this one a try.
The plot is pretty easy to follow. Rachel is a Jewish woman who has CFS and writes for a living. What her family doesn’t know is that she secretly writes Christmas-themed romances to make a living and she’s quite famous for it. The market for Christmas romance is saturated, so her publisher only agrees to publish her next novel if it is a Hanukkah-themed romance, and while Rachel is proud to be Jewish, she shies away from some aspects of it as her parents are very prominent figures in her community. Nevertheless, she seeks out visiting them to meet up with Jacob Greenberg, a childhood friend who can get her a ticket to the Matzah Ball, a celebration on the last night of Hannukah, that she hopes will serve as inspiration for her novel.
The one thing I could not get over in this book is how much of the tension and drama comes from the fact that Rachel and Jacob had a falling out…WHEN THEY WERE TWELVE. Like, c’mon. I couldn’t even name 90% of the kids I hung out with when I was twelve considering I’m 30 now. So much of this book hinges on the animosity they still harbor, and a major plot point circles around decisions and things done when THEY WERE TWELVE. You don’t know anything when you’re 12! You’re not even in high school yet! These people have spent their lives still wrapped up on shit that happened at a Summer Camp over a decade ago. I just could not give a care about these characters. They were still obsessed with actions of twelve-year-olds and acted like twelve-year-olds even as adults.
The one positive I have for this book is that it portrays CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) which is an illness I’ve never before seen expressed in a romance novel, though one of my favorite streamers, Alannah Pearce, has this so I knew a bit about what her life is like. It seemed to ring very true for the experiences of those I’ve read. I did like that that her daily struggles were not undersold and the fact that she cannot do as much as others, even though she may look physically healthy, factored in to a potential relationship as Jacob kept trying to 1. Solve her problems and 2. Pushing her too hard until he grew to understand her condition more accurately.
Overall I think the characters were not my cup of tea.
Title: The Matzah Ball
Author: Jean Meltzer
Three Descriptors: Thoughtful, Diverse, Engaging
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