The Blood Lie
It’s September 22, 1928, and sixteen-year-old Jack Pool is itching to leave his small town in upstate New York. A talented cellist, he has an audition at the Bentley School of Music in three days. Acceptance to the elite boarding school will be his ticket out of Massena. It will also mean leaving behind the girl that he knows he can never have: Jack is Jewish, and Emaline Durham is Christian.
In the opening pages of “The Blood Lie: A Novel,” by Shirley Reva Vernick (Cinco Puntos Press, 2011), we learn the connection between the two: their mothers had become friends as newlywed brides recently moved to Massena. The mothers’ unlikely friendship—and a such a close relationship between Jewish and Christian women was unlikely in a small town at that time—spawned a friendship between their children as well. But when Emaline’s four-year-old sister Daisy goes missing after playing with Jack’s little sister, Jack finds himself the prime suspect in her disappearance.
It is two days before Yom Kippur, the holiest and most solemn day of the year for the Jews, and someone in town with a definite interest in the case has revived the centuries-old lie that Jews sacrifice Christian children for their rituals—the blood libel.
“The Blood Lie” is based on a true story, which is described in an author’s note at the end. As a sophomore in college, Vernick was given the assignment of identifying a local controversy—past or present—in her hometown, and writing a paper about the outcome. This is her interpretation of the story that she uncovered.
Vernick’s afterward also makes the point that the blood libel has not died. Stories of the Jewish sacrifice of Christian children persist, with a 2008 campaign in a Russian city claiming that Jews were “stealing small children and draining their blood to make their sacred bread.”
The book is not without its flaws. I found the ending a bit too abrupt. What’s more, after Daisy was found—safe, if a little unsound—there was speculation that the little girl had been molested, prompting some of the townsmen to vow that they would take their revenge on the Jews. I fully expected a dramatic confrontation, but oddly enough, there was none.
Still, “The Blood Lie” is an engrossing story of forbidden love, terrifying bigotry, and, eventually, forgiveness. The rabbi in particular has some graphic remembrances that would be disturbing to younger readers, but this book is appropriate to middle grade and young adult readers. And honestly? Adults, too.
This review originally appeared in the Sunday, November 20 edition of The News-Gazette. The review copy was supplied by the publisher.