Speed of Light
by Sybil Rosen
Atheneum Books, $16
Audrey Ina Stern and her family live in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Virginia, immediately after World War II, one of a handful of Jewish families. Her mother’s cousin, whom they affectionately call “Tante,” moved to live with the Sterns after being liberated from Auschwitz. Audrey’s father decides to support the night watchman at his factory, Mr. Cardwell, in his quest to become the first black police officer in Blue Gap. The town, however, is not receptive. The book revolves around the town’s racism, and the anti-Semitism the Sterns encounter by supporting the Cardwells.
Rosen’s novel is a valiant effort at teaching children about racism, anti-Semitism, human nature and perseverance. Where the book falls short, however, are the portrayals of Audrey and Tante. Audrey is unusually precocious for her age, using phrases no 11 year old uses, such as calling someone’s mother a “prodigious worrywart.” She blatantly disregards her parents’ rules, is rude to the Cardwells, and mocks her survivor aunt.
The true sore point of the book, however, is the character of Tante. The Holocaust should be presented frankly but all of its atrocities don’t need to be discussed. Children Audrey’s—and the reader’s age—won’t be able to grasp the depths of the psychological aftermath, as seen in Tante’s behavior. Tante is, unfortunately, likely to be seen by children as a loon with a split personality who talks to herself and hates everything. No matter how beautiful the imagery of blacks and Jews banding together to take on a small-minded town, Speed of Light falls flat, almost wholly because of Tante and Audrey.
Susannah Jaffe is a sophomore at Barnard/List College of JTS.