Review: The Papercutter
by Cindy Rizzo
Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Dena Bach
The Papercutter, by Golden Crown Award winner Cindy Rizzo, is a gripping, topical, near-future dystopia, that shows a possible future world resulting from red/blue divide in America today. The narrative is told from the alternating points of view of three brave teens who must navigate increasingly difficult lives for Jews and others outside the norm after “The Split” of the United States into two separate countries: the GFS, the majority white, conservative “God Fearing States of America” and the UPR, the majority non-white, liberal “United Progressive Regions of America. In this absorbing first book in a trilogy, Dani, living in the UPR, and Jeffrey, in the GFS, become friends after joining a pen-pal program connecting Jewish teens in the two countries. As anti-Semitism rises in the GFS, tensions rise for Jeffrey and his friend Judith, an artist who expresses herself through the traditional Jewish art of papercutting. Because their email is monitored by the authorities, Jeffrey and Dani, along with their friends, find a way to send coded messages through Judith’s papercut art. As closer bonds develop within the group, their lives become more perilous when new restrictive rules are put in place in the GFS to “protect” the Jewish citizens after a violent incident. Parallels to pre-war Germany are offered as the teens, along with sympathetic adults including Dani’s religious brother, create an underground movement in response to these actions in a fight for a better future.
The issues in The Papercutter are real and relevant in today’s world for the young adults that are the target audience, and also for the adult reader. With protagonists diverse in race, gender, sexual orientation, as well as political views and level of religious commitment on both sides of the divided countries, Rizzo creates a microcosm of the diversity in the Jewish world today. The portrayals of those on both sides of the political and the Jewish secular/religious divides, though a bit representative, are accurate and nuanced. References in the narrative to the Holocaust as an example of “how it could happen here,” may seem simplistic, but they are thought provoking and a good starting point for discussion. Rizzo is especially good at showing the difficulties that Jews face and the careful lines they must straddle in America today, no matter their level of Jewish involvement. The fast-paced narrative, the struggles presented, and the diversity of characters make The Papercutter a good candidate for the Sydney Taylor Award.
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