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The Path of Names

Review

The Path of Names

Dahlia Sherman has no interest in attending Camp Arava. But she made a deal with her parents: if she went to Arava for one session, they would let her go to magic camp later in the summer. So, despite her misgivings about three weeks at the Jewish camp (where her older brother just happens to be a popular camp counselor), 13-year-old Dahlia finds herself surrounded by kids she doesn’t know and who don’t seem to be interested in magic one bit. Magic will, however, be important for Dahlia during her stay at Camp Arava, but not the sleight of hand she is so keen on perfecting. This magic is kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, that uses numerology, magic words and more, to understand the power creative powers of the universe.

"Goelman’s story is a fast-paced and original adventure. Drawing on traditional Jewish folklore, campfire ghost tales and American coming of age motifs, there is a good blend of the mystical and the mundane."

Dahlia is the smart and slightly awkward heroine of Ari Goelman’s debut kid’s novel, THE PATH OF NAMES. At first blush, the book is a summer camp ghost story, but as it goes on, it gets more complex, exploring themes of power, spirituality, morality, friendship and of course, magic.

Even before the sun sets on her first day at camp, Dahlia has an encounter she believes to be a prank or bad magic trick; two little girls appear to her in her cabin, seemingly distressed, and then disappear through the solid cabin wall. When she asks about the trick, no one knows what she is talking about --- not her brother, Tom, and not her new friend, Rafe. But the girls return time after time, and it appears they have a message for Dahlia. However, she can see them but not hear them, and each time, just as she starts to get a sense of what they are trying to tell her, they are pulled away by the scary shadow of a man Dahlia cannot clearly see. On top of the spectral visitations, Dahlia’s sleeping hours are filled with vivid dreams about a young yeshiva student named David who, after discovering the 72nd name of God, is cast out of his Chasidic community. David’s rebbe wants to keep him and all the Yebavners safe from the Illuminated Ones, a powerful secret society who would stop at nothing to get the 72nd sacred name. But David and the two little girls lived over 70 years ago. How are they connected to Dahlia and the old maze that sits in shambles on the outskirts of Camp Arava?

Dahlia (and a few unlikely comrades) must uncover the identity of the girls, plunge into enigmatic kabbalistic codes, rely on a mysterious groundskeeper for assistance and finally, navigate the maze in order to free the ghosts that haunt the camp and defeat the power-hungry force that has, for decades, used the maze for his own evil doings.

Goelman’s story is a fast-paced and original adventure. Drawing on traditional Jewish folklore, campfire ghost tales and American coming of age motifs, there is a good blend of the mystical and the mundane. Readers need not be familiar with the Jewish subject matter, but honestly, it would be helpful for a bit of clarity. On the other hand, it is refreshing for the lives of Jewish kids in America to be told so naturally (and not as part of a Holocaust narrative or focusing on anti-Semitism) and that in and of itself is a reason to pick up THE PATH OF NAMES. Readers of all backgrounds will be entertained by this spooky (and frankly a bit dark) novel, and Dahlia turns out to be a powerful and intense character who elevates it a bit above your average summer camp story.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 28, 2013

The Path of Names
by Ari Goelman

  • Publication Date: April 30, 2013
  • Genres: Young Adult 10+
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0545474302
  • ISBN-13: 9780545474306