The Romance Reader

“This story…is about a journey as brave as Huck Finn’s, as difficult as Holden Caufield’s, as stark as any I’ve read.”
—Anne Roiphe, Los Angeles Times Book Review

The Romance Reader by Pearl AbrahamWidely applauded when it was published, Pearl Abraham’s debut novel The Romance Reader possesses that quality that distinguishes all great fiction—a fresh look at the universal truths that bind us together. Like Chaim Potok, who revealed the Orthodox Jewish world from a young man’s perspective in The Chosen, Abraham explores new ground, offering readers a tender story of a young Hasidic woman facing the challenges of growing up and the demands of her religion.

Rachel Benjamin is the daughter of a quixotic rabbi who dreams of building a synagogue in the secluded upstate New York bungalow colony where his family now lives. As the rabbi’s eldest daughter, Rachel is expected to set an example for her five siblings and for the other girls in the community: she must wear thick opaque tights with seams; she is forbidden to wear a bathing suit in public; and she can never read books in English. But like all young adults, Rachel bristles at the stringent rules set by her family and her religion, rebelling in ways that become increasingly apparent. Whether sneaking sheer nylons in and out of the house or applying for an illicit library card that will allow her access to the romance novels that she loves, Rachel is determined to do things her way. Dreaming of a life that mirrors that of the heroines in her favorite novels, Rachel craves the independence she will never have as a Hasidic woman in an arranged marriage. And yet, as her impending marriage draws inevitably nearer, the pulls of family and faith weigh against the frightening and unknown world beyond her own.

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“An assured, smoothly written book, narrated in a muted voice that seems to whisper secrets into the reader’s ear…The Romance Reader deftly lifts the opaque curtain from the closed Hasidic world.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“Actually breaks ground for American Jewish fiction…Abraham may be the first Chasidic-born female writer to depict the inner life of an ultra-Orthodox girl imaginatively and critically. She does so with great aplomb and a fierce lack of sentimentality.”
—The Forward

“Original and finely nuanced…great subtlety and warmth.”
—The Washington Post

“Fascinating…riveting reading. This novel marks the debut of an enormously gifted and original writer.”
—Daphne Merkin

“Abraham’s intense, sensitive prose and her ability to create vivid scenes and memorable characters augment this authentic, often distrubing look at Hasidic home life and beliefs.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Wonderful…compelling…humorous…finely drawn characters and beautifully written prose.”
—Insight Jewish Magazine

Honors and Awards

  • Finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award
  • One of the New York Public Library’s Best Books for the Teen Age, 1996
  • Library Journal’s Editor’s Choice for one of the Best Books of 1995
  • A choice book of the Northern California Bookseller’s Association
  • Winner of a San Antonio Current “Hot Tamale” Award in the “Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant” category
  • First book club selection of the Contra Costa Times
  • Literary Guild Featured Book
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