Review: The Prince of Steel Pier
The Prince of Steel Pier
by Stacy Nockowitz
Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022
Thirteen-year-old Joey Goodman spends every August in Atlantic City. His grandparents and Uncle Sol own the St. Bonaventure, an aging hotel on the Boardwalk which caters to elderly Jews. Every summer, at least one hotel guest passes away. And that is how The Prince of Steel Pier begins, with a line guaranteed to grab attention: “It’s nine o’clock on Friday morning and Mrs. Goldberg is definitely dead.” After seeing Mrs. Goldberg, Joey vomits and the rest of the family comments on his sensitive nature. Joey is tired of being called “squirt” by his two older brothers. He wants to prove himself as being brave and capable. But when he accidentally gets involved with Atlantic City mobsters, he finds that the support of family is exactly what he needs.
This novel, which takes place in the 1970’s, just as the casinos were taking over Atlantic City, is a delightful, fast-paced coming of age story. Joey, with all his insecurities, is an endearing protagonist who narrates with humor and insight. Middle grade readers should particularly enjoy Joey’s honesty as he observes his own behavior in his struggle to create a new self-image. And they will keep turning pages to find out how Joey extricates himself from sticky situations.
Joey witnesses antisemitism and explores questions of faith. But his attachment to his big Jewish family and Jewish observance is the cornerstone of his life. Even when trying to impress a girl, he chooses not to violate kashrut by eating a cheeseburger.
The Prince of Steel Pier should be a strong contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. Its positive, authentic portrayal of Jewish characters and practice makes it an excellent mirror for Jewish readers. Non-Jewish readers will find it to be an illuminating window. This book belongs in schools and public libraries everywhere.
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