Book: The Path of Names
Author: Ari Goelman
Age Range: 10-14
The Path of Names by Ari Goelman is about a girl named Dahlia Sherman who loves magic tricks, does NOT want to go to Jewish summer camp, and ends up unraveling a 78-year-old mystery involving a Yiddish rabbinical student and the ghosts of two young girls. There are camp skits, mazes, and (minor) sibling rivalries. There's a creepy camp handyman, a posse of mean girls, and a boy with the potential to be a friend (and the inclination to be more). In short, The Path of Names has a little something for everyone.
Dahlia is a strong character, a girl who doesn't care that much that the popular girls think she's weird, who likes math, and who just wants to understand things. She's at that age where she's resisting the boy-girl stuff, even as it swirls around her. She is delightfully furious when she finds out that her friend Rafe is letting people believe they are dating. I like that she uses her brain and tenacity to solve the mystery, despite making mistakes along the way.
Most of the book is told from Dahlia's limited third person viewpoint, but intermittent chapters are from the viewpoint of David Schank, a 17-year-old yeshiva student in 1940's New York City. A few sections are also told from the viewpoint of Dahlia's older brother, Tom, a counselor at the camp. Dahlia is the one that readers will relate to most of the three, through David's story is the more suspenseful one. Shifting the viewpoint between Dahlia and David will keep readers turning the pages, driven like Dahlia to understand what happened to the young student.
The camp setting and details seemed authentic to me, though I never went to sleepaway camp (Jewish or otherwise). It is certainly not an idealized portrayal - there are details that strongly indicate the author's personal experience in a camp setting. Like this:
"Dahlia went up the stairs to the cabin. It smelled familiar from visiting Tom all these years: the musty scent of old wood, mingled with the smells of clean laundry and dirty shoes and nylon sleeping bags. She had sort of liked the smell when they visited Tom, but the girls' bunk smelled different, more girly. Had someone really brought perfume to summer camp?" (Page 9)
There is also quite a lot of information in The Path of Names about Jewish history and culture, kabbala, Hebrew words, etc. All of these things are central to the book's storyline. I found the details fascinating, and I think kids will too. Goelman does a nice job of broadening the reader's perspective, while still keeping his focus on plot and character.
I do think that The Path of Names is more a book for middle schoolers than for elementary school kids. This is partly due to content (there is a small amount of drinking by the older kids, and there are deaths), but mostly due to the mystical themes, and the relatively grown-up perspective of David. Certainly, despite having a girl as the primary protagonist, The Path of Names is also boy-friendly (ghosts, mazes, magic tricks, pranks). Recommended for mystery and adventure fans, or anyone who likes the idea of seeing ghosts at summer camp.
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: April 30, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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