Title: A New Song
By Barbara Bensoussan
Imagine living your whole life in a tiny, poor town in the middle of nowhere, raised by family members who simply provide you with your most basic physical needs – a roof over your head, food, clothes but largely treat you as an afterthought. You count down the years until you can finally get out on your own, unsure how you are going to get through each day in the meantime.
A New Song, by Barbara Bensoussan, is the story of Melody, a 12-year-old girl living in a tiny Midwestern town. Her parents were killed in an accident when she was a toddler. Her mother was Jewish but her father was not. She is raised by her non-Jewish uncle and aunt, her father’s brother, and sister-in-law. Melody only has one friend at school; she doesn’t fit in with her peers nor at home with her aunt, uncle, and cousins; she can’t seem to find her true melody in her current situation. Her situation goes from bad to worse when she finds out that her only friend is moving away.
But a glimmer of hope comes when Melody receives a letter from frum cousins in Brooklyn who decided to track her down. Through back-and-forth letters, she and her cousins get to know each other; her cousins also introduce her to Judaism. In one letter, her cousin writes, “having a Jewish mother definitely makes you Jewish. Our religion has a lot of rules – about eating, about the Sabbath, about how to relate to other people – but the point of all of them is to create a special relationship between us and Hashem. That’s how we try to be ‘holy.” Melody finds out that she has a special purpose in this world as a member of Klal Yisrael. Learning about and connecting to Torah and mitzvos help Melody find her true melody.
She ends up living with her cousins in the summer, fully immersing herself in a Torah observant environment. The book’s first chapter is titled, “The Ugly Duckling,” and the last chapter is titled, “The Swan.” This classic story serves as a metaphor for the novel; as Melody learns about mitzvos and grows in her observance, she transforms from an “ugly duckling” into a “beautiful swan.”