Hush by Eishes Chayil is an ARC I’ve had waiting on my shelves for several months now. I finally got to it during the April Readathon and have finally remembered to post about it!
About the Book:
Hush begins with one friend calling to another. Gittel, now seventeen and the story’s narrator, speaks to her friend Devory, who died when she was ten. The memory has haunted Gittel for the past seven years, and as the novel moves forward, she shares its circumstances only reluctantly and with time. As Gittel tells her story, she moves between the year of Devory’s death and the present.
Gittel and Devory are part of a closed Chassidic Borough Park neighborhood where everyone knows each other and strict rules govern every aspect of life. The community is so rigid that as events unfold, Gittel comes to the painful realization that there is no space for what happened to Devory within it. Hush is Devory’s story as well as Gittel’s struggle to deal with it.
Hush is both a fascinating and powerful story. The fascinating aspect, for me, was seeing how Gittel’s Chassidic community functioned: school, jobs, gender roles, match-making, marriage, and even explanations of everyday things to children. For instance, having a husband who did nothing but study the Torah was so highly valued that wives would gladly function as both sole provider and homemaker. And then there was the issue of reputation; secrets were locked up as tightly as possible so that they couldn’t seep out into the community and ruin a daughter’s marriage prospects. Or how a bride and groom didn’t find out what would happen on their wedding night until just before the wedding.
Hush is powerful because of the story it exposes. Gittel is faced with enormous pressure to keep quiet. Speaking out would ruin the reputations of her family and Devory’s, not to mention draw the attention of law enforcement and the outside world to the exclusive community. Gittel is plagued by memories and dreams of her friend, yet the obstacles to doing what seems right appear insurmountable. How do you shed light on a situation an entire community refuses to acknowledge ever occurred?
My favorite character, and the only one outside of the Chassidic community, was Kathy, who lives with her husband upstairs from Gittel’s family. Christian, kind, and a bit mentally unstable, Kathy is irresistible to Gittel and Devory. Against the reader’s (and perhaps Gittel’s own) expectations, Kathy is a friend to the girls and a support to Gittel after Devory is gone. I could never really tell if Kathy knew what was going on, but she was the only warm presence in a novel of cool exteriors.
As I read Hush, I learned that Eishes Chayil is a pen name. In fact, an Eishes Chayil is, I learned, a Woman of Valor, an ideal wife. And in the author’s note, which you can read here, Eishes Chayil explains how Hush is based on her own personal story. The pen name and the personal connection added a deeper layer to Hush and made its impact even more profound.
While Hush is labeled for ages 14 and up, I, as an adult, found it to be a great read. Gittel comes across as childlike, but that’s because (a) for half the book she is a child, and (b) children in her community were so sheltered from the outside world that they couldn’t help but sound ignorant. The passages narrated by the older Gittel, though, are imbued with a strength and wisdom that makes Gittel seem older than she is, in spite of her ignorance. I think Hush would appeal to readers of adult and young adult fiction alike.