Review: No Vacancy

No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Stacy Mozer

No Vacancy is the story of eleven-year-old Miriam Brockman whose family moves to upstate New York to run a motel. Unfortunately, they learn pretty quickly that the previous owners had overvalued the hotel's income potential. The book is set against a backdrop of religious identity and acceptance. Miriam and her family are Jewish and have some religious practices, such as not eating pork and celebrating Shabbat with Friday night dinner, and her uncle who comes to visit is shomer shabbat. However, the area of New York they have moved to has seen few Jews. When Miriam and her new friend, Kate, find an image at the run-down drive in movie theater that looks like the Virgin Mary, the town is suddenly in the midst of miracle mania. When this leads to antisemitic vandalism on the hotel, the predominantly Christian town has to stand together with their new Jewish neighbors.

I think this book should be a strong contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. There are few, if any, books that have been published that address modern day antisemitism. By having Miriam's family observe some religious practices and her uncle more observant, readers can experience the fact that Jewish people do not all look and practice the same way, so I would definitely say the book has positive and authentic Jewish religious or cultural content, and that it demonstrates some of the broad diversity of the Jewish experience. The characterization of Miriam, her friend Kate, and her brother, make the book appropriate for the intended grade level in style, vocabulary, and format. 

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Stacy Mozer a veteran elementary school teacher, currently teaching advanced language arts to second - fifth graders. In addition to teaching, she is a middle grade author, a book blogger, and serves as Co-Regional Advisor for the New England Region of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.