Title: The Book of Trees
Author: Leanne Lieberman
Publication Year: 2010
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary/Realistic Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Review copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program
From the cover:
When Mia, a Jewish teenager from Toronto, goes to Jerusalem to spend the summer studying at a yeshiva, or seminary, she expects to connect with the land and deepen her understanding of Judaism. Instead, she gets a crash course in both the politics of the Middle East and the intricacies of the human heart, and discovers a whole new way of looking at the world.
This book … it was so good.
I’ve read a few YA books already about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, notably The Shepherd’s Granddaughter and Where the Streets Had A Name. Both of those, however, were written from the point of view of a Palestinian child; while The Book of Trees is also written from the point of view of a teenager, the narrator (Mia) is a bit of an outsider and an insider all at once (Canadian and Jewish), and not Palestinian. It’s because of her that character I wanted to read this book, thinking it would be nice to read about the conflict from a different perspective.
Right from the beginning, I knew that The Book of Trees was going to be different from anything else I had read about the subject. Mia’s narrative is sprinkled with Hebrew words rather than the usual Arabic, and the reader also contends with her burgeoning devoutness as a girl “returning” to her Jewish roots. It’s made clear from the beginning that Mia is really trying to find her way in the yeshiva – she hadn’t been religious until recently back in Toronto, and this trip is supposed to be part of her religious education.
It’s really interesting to see this development and learning from Mia’s perspective, and especially to see how she reacts once she starts to see the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians. She meets a boy – who she struggles with wanting to see, since in her newfound devoutness she’s not supposed to have male friends – and he shows her a lot of Jerusalem that she wants to see but that she isn’t being exposed to through her roommate (and friend from Toronto) and the yeshiva program.
I found The Book of Trees to be a great read in more than one way: beyond the context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, there was an intriguing storyline based around Mia’s pursuit of Judaism and her desire to really connect with her Jewish background and the “Promised Land” of Israel. She struggles with the things that she learns and experiences in part because she’s trying to reconcile her faith and her experiences, something that – to me, at least – was extremely realistic.
I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone to read, whether their interest is on the regional conflict or simply in matters of Judaism. There’s something for everyone in The Book of Trees.