Review Blog

Feb 05 2020

What makes us by Rafi Mittlefehldt

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Candlewick Press, 2019. ISBN: 9780763697501.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Eran is a passionate student who believes in standing up for social justice. His discussions with his teacher Mr Riskin explore the boundaries of when violence is necessary and legitimate and when it becomes terrorism. Eran is leading a protest against increased police powers to stop and arrest. He believes that his anger is a justified response to oppressive forces, and in moments of conflict he refuses to bow down, he always rises to the fight. And that is what happens, in a split second, when a counter protest meets with the student group, and a belligerent bearded guy provokes him, Eran reacts with a push. The man falls backward, and suddenly Eran's mother, Eema, is there before the news cameras saying 'This is not our fight'.
That moment changes Eran's life. An astute reporter makes the connection between Eema's words and an incident 15 years earlier when a Jewish terrorist blew up a group of people and himself. The Jewish terrorist was Eran's father, the man who left them when he was only a toddler. Suddenly Eran comes face-to-face with his hidden identity, and obsesses over whether he has the same violent tendencies, and whether his anger is part of his genetic inheritance. Can anger be justified? Can it be a good thing? Or is it something that is always going to get him into trouble?
The issue of anger and anger management is explored thoughtfully in the novel, as the tide of community anger turns against Eran and his mother, the supposed terrorists in their midst. It is a new young friend, Jade, also discovering hidden secrets in her family, who is finally able to provide the calmness and insight that Eran needs.
The descriptions of the community's blind violence towards the perceived 'other', the Jewish terrorists, is very powerful, and is a reminder of the destructiveness of ignorance and prejudice, the kind of prejudice that currently often has expression towards Muslim people in our society. Mittlefehldt's novel is a very clever and thoughtful exploration of the issues, and deserves to be included in school discussions of racism, bigotry and terrorism. The book is so well written, I am sure that teenagers will readily identify with the character of Eran and the dilemma he faces. It is also encouraging to see the portrayal of a caring and involved teacher, Mr Riskin, who tries to interrogate some of the fear and anger that Eran carries. And the loyalty and friendship between the young students is also another strong positive value throughout the book. There is much to think about and enjoy in this book. I can highly recommend it to teenage and adult readers.
Helen Eddy

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