From School Library Journal
Grade 6-8–The Crusaders–often icons of valor and derring-do in Robin Hood legends–were harbingers of terror and imminent death for medieval Jews. Elvina, granddaughter of the revered 11th-century French rabbi and commentator Rashi, takes center-stage in this novel in which readers experience the period through Jewish eyes. The otherwise fascinating plot proceeds somewhat erratically in chapters that alternate, but not consistently, between the 12-year-old's first-person communications with her imaginary guardian angel, Mazal, and a third-person narrative. While her mother is helping a friend through childbirth, Elvina becomes the woman of the house, frustratingly trying to balance her love of reading and writing and long, philosophical talks with her beloved grandfather with female responsibilities that she really doesn't want. When news that the illiterate Crusaders are heading through Troyes en route to Jerusalem to destroy the infidels (Muslims), the Jews know that they are in equal danger. While their leaders try to appease the marauders, Elvina stumbles on a young deserter who is hiding because he wants to study with priests rather than fight. Through a series of believable coincidences, the act of helping him becomes the catalyst for saving the community. Though occasionally uneven writing (or translating) keeps readers from being riveted, descriptions of traditions are well done and informative. Elvina's story brings a time, a place, and a people long ignored to life, but the novel may find a limited audience.–Mary R. Hofmann, Rivera Middle School, Merced, CA
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Gr. 5-7. "Did God put me on this earth just to hatch eggs?" wails 12-year-old Elvina. Certainly Queen Esther, the heroine celebrated on Purim, had a more significant role to play than keeping hens' eggs warm during winter, a task considered "proper and profitable" for Jewish girls in eleventh-century France. But Elvina feels less than bold when real responsibility looms: Gauthier, a reluctant young Crusader, asks her to help him desert his regiment. Is the advance notice he promises about possible attacks on the Jewish community worth the risks? Too many extraneous characters deflect attention from the interfaith friendship between Elvina and Gauthier, and some readers may be distracted by the intermingling of third-person narrative with first-person monologues directed at Elvina's guardian angel. Even so, this French import offers a heady plunge into medieval Europe as well as an enlightening lesson about anti-Semitism in a time period long before the Holocaust. An author's note reveals that both Elvina and her beloved grandfather, the rabbinical scholar Rashi, were historical figures. Jennifer MattsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved