Monday, April 9, 2012

The Last Song (review)



2/5 stars
The Last Song is one of those interesting ideas that doesn't live up to it's premise.  I LOVE the idea of following a family secretly practicing Judaism during the Spanish Inquisition.  I find it fascinating.  The fear of the Inquisition, the conflict between loyalty to friends and church. But this book didn't really tackle any of those issues, at least not in a way that I found satisfactory.

The characters were all one note.  Every Jewish person was wonderful, generous and good.  On the other hand the Catholics were judgmental and cruel. (There was maybe one exception).  Simplifying it like that is an injustice to everyone.  No religious or people group deserves to be boiled down for convenient storytelling. I wanted this book to deal with the conflicted emotion on both the Jewish and the Catholic side of the Inquisition.  I know it had to be more complicated than this book makes it.

I feel like when your dealing with a heavy topic like religion you have to write better then if you're writing, for example, about a high school prom.  The characters have to shine and you have to be sensitive in your storytelling.  The writing was unspectacular, at times even cheesy, which I would be more apt to forgive if it we're for the ambitious subject matter.

Isabel is not a believable main character.  She goes from early in the book being like "Ewww Jewish people gross" to two pages later "Sure I'll dress as a boy and follow you to a Torah study session."  There was no real struggle.  She's spent her entire life as a faithful Catholic, praying to the Virgin Mary, going to mass, taking communion.  Then someone tells her that her family is really Jewish.  After one token "Oh no" she throws herself into Judaism without much question.

As a reader, her sudden change was hard to accept. I wanted the struggle, the questioning and the decision between two faiths.  The questions are what makes religion interesting to read about.  This book had a real opportunity to delve into the subject of faith. But it didn't deal with that all.  Even though Judaism was a potential death sentence, Isabel just tagged along blindly.  She didn't really make a choice, she just followed a cute boy to Torah lessons. (Yes really. Obviously that made me angry).

We need to have intelligent conversations about religion.  Children need to be introduced to acceptance at a young age.  We live in religiously hostile society.  It's not just Christian versus Jews or Jews versus Muslim.  In America, it's often denomination versus denomination.  In my experience many parents fight these battles through their children.

That's why I want books like this to be better.  Because discovering who you are and what you believe is important.  Learning to accept people who are different is important.  If you're going to go there you have to really go there.  Telling a one sided surface-surfing story does a disservice to everyone.  If the book isn't going to help it's probably going to hurt.

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