This article was first published in The Times of Israel.
Move over, Harry Potter at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, and make way for Dahlia Sherman at Camp Arava.Scholastic, Inc., the publisher that brought us the biggest-ever phenomenon in children’s literature, has released a mystical fantasy novel for preteen readers set at a Jewish sleep-away summer camp in rural Pennsylvania.
Before long, terms like Kabbalah, golem and gematria will be rolling off kids’ tongues as easily as dementor, horcrux and arithmancy.
“The Path of Names,” by first-time novelist Ari Goelman, has 13-year-old aspiring magician Dahlia arriving at Arava reluctantly, her parents having insisted she attend a session at the camp — where her older brother Tom is a counselor and she’ll meet other Jewish kids — before going to magic camp later in the summer.
As she settles in to her bunk, the aloof and skeptical Dahlia sees two little girls appearing to walk through a wall. She assumes it must be some kind of trick, but soon things get weirder when she dreams about a Hasidic Yeshiva student named David Schank in 1940s New York who has discovered the 72nd name of God. The intelligent and inquisitive Dahlia uses bits of information she picks up from the camp’s flaky Kabbalah club instructor and a mysterious old book to figure out she is being possessed by the spirit of this dead Yeshiva bocher with the same initials as hers.
Schank has enlisted Dahlia to save the ghostly little girls and prevent the leader of an evil organization called “The Illuminated Ones” from learning the mystical name and using it to gain eternal life and the power to uncover all of life’s secrets.
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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.