Rubens, M. (2012). Sons of the 613. New York, NY: Clarion Books.
Plot Summary: Isaac’s parents leave for vaction shortly before his bar mitzvah, leaving his unpredictable brother Josh in charge. When Isaac asks Josh for help preparing for his bar mitzvah he finds out he will not only be practicing his reading for the ceremony but will also embark on Josh’s quest to make him a man. This includes getting into a fight, falling in love, firing a gun, riding a motorcycle, getting a make over, and standing up to the school bullies. Along the way he meets some of Josh’s unconventional friends including a punk rocker who once bit off part of Josh’s ear and a stripper. Naturally disaster ensues the kitchen catches on fire, Josh almost gets arrested and they get caught having a huge house party. When Isaac confronts his brother about why he is acting so crazy and pushing him so hard to be a man he finds out that Josh plans to join the marines after Isaac’s bar mitzvah. Isaac’s bar mizvah goes well and some of Josh’s crazy friends even show up to support him but the book ends with Josh’s being killed in action. After his death Isaac receives a letter sent by another marine after Josh died where Josh finally explains why he pushed Isaac so hard to become a man.
Critical Evaluation: The book had pretty good flow throughout but the ending seemed very rushed. It went strait from the boys getting in trouble for the party, to Isaac’s bar mitzvah, to Josh’s death in about twenty pages out of the three hundred total pages in the book. This also caused the scenes surrounding Josh’s death to have less emotional impact because they were so rushed through. Additionally the book’s ending does not show much character growth for Josh though Isaac is clearly changed by the entire experience. The rest of the book is very funny and action packed. The book has some very short chapters and a few longer ones depending on how long it takes for Isaac to learn that chapter’s lesson. Each chapter also has a subtitle that provides some foreshadowing into what the chapter will be about and some list a merit badge Isaac earns as well providing further insight about what will happen in the chapter. These subtitles and merit badges are not always achieved in the way the reader would expect however so they are not giving away too much. These titles and merit badges generally line up with what Josh is trying to teach which is not always the same as what Isac actually learns. Josh’s lessons tend to be more macho and stereotypical while Isaac learns a lot of varied lessons about manhood from different characters in the book.
Reader’s Annotation: When Isaac asks his brother Josh for help preparing for his bar mitzvah he is not prepared for the crazy regimen Josh forces him into to become a man.
Author Information: Micheal Rubens was a producer for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart for several years. He has also written one novel The Sheriff of Yrnameer for adults and lives in Brooklyn New York.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Booktalk Ideas: 1) What messages about being a man are being portrayed by Josh, and which characters in the book offer other lessons about being a man?
2) What are the negative consequences of Josh’s lessons and what are the positive effects, overall did Isaac learn more from the negative or positive aspects of Josh’s lessons?
Reading Level & Interest Level: The reading level for this book is listed as being for readers age 12. I guess this is because that is the age when boys prepare for their bar mitzvah. However I think older readers can still benefit from the book’s message and would list the age range for the interest level as ages 12-18.
Challenge Issues: This book is fairly violent and includes depictions of underage drinking. However, it also includes a great message about what it really means to be a man and standing up for yourself. Overall the book conveys a good message and also shows the consequences of the negative actions in the story.
Why is it included?: I wanted to include more books on my list with male main characters to ensure that I had materials that would appeal to both male and female readers.