Summary: When her Orthodox Jewish parents spend the summer in Israel, Ellie spends the summer with her Bubbie at a cottage in Northern Ontario. Meeting the girl next door changes Ellie’s life as she realises her attraction to Lindsay isn’t just about her secular ways, but also about the fact that Ellie is attracted to women. At the end of the summer, Ellie’s family reunites, but all are changed. Ellie’s questioning what her sexuality means when it comes to her religious beliefs, her sister Neshama is more determined than ever to make her escape to university, and their parents have a renewed sense of religious fervour. Together they explore the meaning of belief in God, and the different forms it takes.
Number of Pages: 239
Age Range: 15-17
Review: In one summer Ellie’s whole world changes when she realises the future of getting married and raising children she expects as an Orthodox Jew is in jeopardy because she is attracted to girls.
Ellie’s inner struggle over this discovery about herself is complex. She’s smart and knows how to search the scriptures herself for the opinion of her religion on being gay. And when people she does trust tell her it’s wrong to be gay, similar to a bad habit, Ellie does her best to rid herself of this ‘bad habit.’ When it doesn’t go away though, she also has the guts to stand up for herself and embrace who she is.
Reading the part about Ima, Ellie’s mother, made me angry. The scene where she begins singing along with the Canter in synagogue was beautifully described, and it was clear that Ima was communing with God in a way others weren’t capable of doing. But when her singing caused pettiness from others and brought shame on her family, causing them to go to new schuls, I was heartbroken. Although it turned out for the best when the new schul welcomed women singing, and both men and women singing together added a whole new dimension to their worship.
My favourite, favourite part in a book filled with thought-provoking conversations and complicated characters was when Ellie comes to realise being attracted to the same sex does not mean she can’t believe in God or be devout. Her dream is to have everything she would have had if she had married a man, only with a woman, and to share her beliefs and religious practices with the one she loves.
In Gravity, author Leanne Lieberman has examined the intertwining of lives in a close-knit devout family. Each member is dealing with their own crisis of faith, and deals with it in their own way. I love how Neshama is simply fed up with her parents’ expression of being Orthodox Jews, but still encourages her sister to find her own way to encourage her beliefs. Ima seems to have legendary stories of how her journey toward connection with God took her from considering becoming a nun to falling in love and marrying Abba, an Orthodox Jew. Abba himself is convinced that following the rules set out in the Torah will bring him closer to God, and that perhaps if Jews had been more devout in the past, the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened in the first place.
All are characters worthy of the reader’s empathy as they struggle with the larger questions of life. Lieberman does such an artful job of putting her reader in each family member’s shoes that there is no one to blame or dislike. I may have personally though Ellie’s parents were a bit over-the-top at times, but Lieberman helped me understand why.
I enjoyed the concept of God as a force similar to gravity and love, and I loved Lieberman’s demonstration of faith playing out in a real life situation. I’m greatly looking forward to reading more of her work.
“God is too big an idea to even hold in my head all at one time, vaporous and, well, enormous. it’s like trying to think about the whole ocean all at once. I can only focus on one mollusk or seaweed tendril at a time.” – Ellie from Gravity by Leanne Lieberman, page 14
“I always thought Abba was religious because of the Holocaust. I once overheard Bubbie ask Abba why he ‘bothered keeping all those crazy rules.’ Abba said that if the Jews had been more observant, the Holocaust would never have happened.
‘Bullshit!’ Bubbie cried. ‘Is that what your parents believed? No!’
Abba shrugged. “That’s my opinion.’
When I ask Bubbie about it later, her nostrils flared in disgust. ‘Ellie,’ she told me, ‘the Holocaust happened because Hitler was crazy and because no one cared a damn about the Jews. Now it’s not like that. Everyone like us, in Canada anyway.” – Conversation between Bubbie and Abba about keeping Jewish laws from Gravity by Leanne Lieberman, page 112
“I’m so sick of a mean God who insists on stupid stuff like only eating animals with split hooves. How does that make you a better person? I can’t believe how many generations of crazy men believe all that crap. They only do it to oppress women. Garburetors are work? Who does the cooking in all those crazy ways on Shabbos? Why would you believe any of it?’
‘I…I…I don’t know. Because Shabbos is good,’ I say weakly.
‘So rest on Shabbos, but don’t follow stupid rules on how to rest. It’s just a book, El.’
‘A book inspired by God,’ I whisper.
Neshama scoffs. ‘Can you even prove that God exists? Can you?’
When I pray, the words reverberate through my chest and esophagus, filing my head. They ground me, like bull kelp, thick and bulbous, rooted to the ocean floor, yet still moving, undulating in the waves. How to explain this to Neshama?'” – Conversation between Neshama and Ellie from Gravity by Leanne Lieberman, page 140
“I stand on the street, stunned. That look on Lindsay’s face. I’ve never seen it before. She’s trying to escape from herself. I know it. She doesn’t like herself. I’ve never seen her like that, unconfident, or weak. My mouth fills with a bitter taste. All along I’ve admired Lindsay, wanted to be like her, but not now. She doesn’t have any idea what it really means to escape, what sacrifice it entails.” – Ellie from Gravity by Leanne Lieberman, pages 203-204
“I slump in my car. ‘I really miss the Torah.’
‘So go back to it.’
‘I don’t think I can.’
‘Maybe for you it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Make the Torah whatever you want it to be. It’s so huge and contradictory, you can find whatever you want and ignore the other parts. Everybody does it.’
‘I know. Just don’t take it as the word of God.’
‘Do you think Ima does?’
‘Ima floats along in her own little world, taking in the parts that fit her life. Woman can’t sing in public – I bet she finds a way out of that one.’
Neshama shudders. ‘He really doesn think the Torah is the word of God, but I try and cut him some slack because everything he does, misguided as it is, come from his love for Hashem.’
We both sigh. Then Neshama gets up and pulls me through the circle of dancing, stomping women, weaving into the center. Grabbing my hands she leans back and starts to turn. I shriek and pull back harder, the room spinning.” – Conversation between Ellie and Neshama from Gravity by Leanne Lieberman, pages 209-210