Jewish Values: Without Tess

Number of Pages: 
280 p.
Lizzie Cohen is a fifteen-year-old girl whose world is falling apart. When she was ten, her older sister Tess died. Since that time, Lizzie has been grappling with her grief and guilt. Lizzie yearns to understand why her sister died. She hangs onto Tess’s journal filled with disturbing poems and sketches. The wounded parents react to their loss by withdrawing in helpless silence: “… their smiles look like they hurt and their eyes are full of shadows.” Theirs is a loving relationship sorely wounded by the loss of their daughter. Lizzie’s therapist, Dr. Kaplan, guides Lizzie to understand what happened and how to make a life for herself without her sister. The other characters—neighbors and friends—are unique individuals who care about Lizzie and try to reach her. Lizzie’s intelligence, creativity, and sense of humor elevate this novel. For example, Lizzie imagines her English teacher, Ms. Lozano, reciting a poem by Keats: “… her voice becomes breathless and she sounds like one of those nighttime telephone escorts.” The setting of a coastal river is aglow with the colors and shapes of sea, land, and sky; the sounds of seabirds and the lapping of waves; the smells of fish and salt and sweat; the gentle touch of a family quilt or the searing pain of being stabbed. Evocative similes and metaphors fill the pages. For example, “The moon is yellow and heavy as a tablespoon of honey.” Here is a non-observant Jewish family who nevertheless has a strong Jewish identity. They follow certain rituals, like lighting a yahrzeit candle on the anniversary of Tess’s death. The contrast between Lizzie’s doubts about heaven and hell, and her Catholic friend’s certainty is portrayed in a sympathetic and convincing way.
Book ID: 
Sydney Taylor Winner: 
Age Level: