Review: The Path of Names

Review: The Path of NamesThe Path of Names by Ari Goelman
Published by Arthur A. Levine on April 30, 2013
Genres: Mystery, Paranormal
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Gifted
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Mysteries, mazes, and magic combine in this smart, funny summer-camp fantasy -- like THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY for kids!

Dahlia Sherman loves magic, and Math Club, and Guitar Hero. She isn't so fond of nature walks, and Hebrew campfire songs, and mean girls her own age.

All of which makes a week at Jewish summer camp pretty much the worst idea ever.

But within minutes of arriving at camp, Dahlia realizes that it might not be as bad as she'd feared. First she sees two little girls walk right through the walls of her cabin. Then come the dreams -- frighteningly detailed visions of a young man being pursued through 1930s New York City. How are the dreams and the girls related? Why is Dahlia the only one who can see any of them? And what's up with the overgrown, strangely shaped hedge maze that none of the campers are allowed to touch? Dahlia's increasingly dangerous quest for answers will lead her right to the center of the maze -- but it will take all her courage, smarts, and sleight-of-hand skills to get her back out again.

First Sentence: “Dahlia stared out the car window and thought about Harry Houdini.”

Review:
There’s this old song called “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” about a young boy whose parents force him to go to camp. It’s a funny, silly song, written like a letter to his parents. At first, he hates camp and is begging them to come and get him, but, by the end, he loves it. On the simplest level, this is the plot of Ari Goelman’s The Path of Names.

Dahlia differs from the usual middle grade heroine. She’s grumpy and antisocial, preferring math and practicing magic tricks to spending time with people. When her parents force her to go to a Jewish camp, she’s pissed. She doesn’t have any interest in Judaism and would prefer to be at math camp. Her parents promise to let her leave after a week if she completely hates it and she plans to, but instead she gets caught up and the weeks pass almost without her realizing. All it takes to make a girl love summer camp and befriend people is a couple of ghosts, possession, and a mystery, no big deal.

Immediately upon Dahlia’s arrival in camp, she sees two girls run through a wall. Because of her love of magic, she suspects there’s another aspiring magician in camp, but her search proves fruitless. When she realizes she’s been seeing ghosts, though, Dahlia’s hooked. She begins researching these two girls, only to discover that they disappeared 72 years before. They’re also trying to warn her about something.

Oh, also, Dahlia’s been possessed by a dead man’s spirit and she’s dreaming his memories. The Path of Names deals heavily with Jewish mysticism and themes. I really appreciated reading a novel set in a tradition outside of the Christian. Also, though religion is obviously a huge plot element, the book did not feel preachy in the slightest. Goelman gets into kabbalah a bit, and it’s all pretty fascinating.

The Path of Names is told in third person, rotating through third person limited perspectives. Though most often focused on thirteen-year-old Dahlia, the perspective also goes to her older brother (16), a camp counselor, and David Schank (19), the young man possessing Dahlia. I feel like I say this a lot in my middle grade reviews, but this is really a story that works for all ages. Goelman’s writing and plotting are sophisticated, and not written down to a younger audience.

In fact, I’m not a hundred percent sure how much the average kid would enjoy The Path of Names, with the discussions of math and Hebrew. I thought it was very well done and enjoyable myself, but the pace was a bit on the slower side. I imagine it’s a better book for kids on the older side of the middle grade spectrum, as the reading level is fairly high.

If you’ve been looking for a middle grade novel set in a different culture or a cool ghost story, The Path of Names is an excellent choice. Goelmans writes well, and I’d certainly be willing to read more of his books in the future.

Favorite Quote:

“‘Funny thing, how much weaker boys are than girls.'”

10 responses to “Review: The Path of Names”

  1. Amy says:

    This sounds really good. I don’t think I have ever read a book that has a lot of focus on Jewish religion. I tend to stay away from books that focus on religion in general, but this might have to be an exception. It sounds like a book I would like.

    • Christina says:

      I’ve read a couple, like Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated, but this one was a bit more accessible, since it is for younger readers.

  2. I NEED THIS BOOK IN MY LIFE! Wow this one sounds good. I love how there is a bit of mystery and it sounds like Dahlia does a lot of growing as she unravels said mystery. The third person scares me a bit but I like the idea of getting to be the person who possessed her.

    I am so singing that song in my head now, and probably will be all damn day! Thanks a lot for that.

    • Christina says:

      OH DO YOU JENNI? Dahlia does grow, and she’s much more open, but still rather snide and sarcastic at the end. It’s pretty cute. I love that she doesn’t turn into a Pollyanna, but does come out of her shell.

      YOU ARE WELCOME!

  3. I like the description of this one. Already love the MC!

  4. This novel sounds great! I love the fact that the protagonist is anti-social and more than a little grumpy. Finally, a girl after my own heart – There’s a reason Daria was my favourite TV show when I was growing up! It’s really a nice change of pace and would be interesting to read about a girl who transcends the norm in a number of different ways. I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for this one the next time I’m at the bookstore as it definitely sounds like one I would enjoy.

    Wonderful review, Christina! 🙂

    • Christina says:

      Haha, and I will now have the Cake song Daria stuck in my head all day. I’ve actually not seen Daria, but it’s been recommended to me many a time, because of my charming personality.

  5. Soma Rostam says:

    Well, the two quotes you provided are really nice but I have never been a fan of Middle Grade novels, they never interest me
    I never even read MG books when I was in a middle grade, I always read classics
    Your reader,
    Soma
    http://insomnia-of-books.blogspot.com/

    • Christina says:

      Middle grade isn’t for everyone. I didn’t read it when I was that age either (of course that designation didn’t even exist), but I love it now.

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