Friday, October 29, 2021

Review: Ripped Away by Shirley Reva Vernick

Today's review takes a time travel twist and sends two 'non-friends' back to the streets, where Jack the Ripper lurks in the shadows. It's a short read at 107 pages...and the cover as well as the description caught my interest. Plus, it's only a day or two until Halloween, and I hoped this one might slide right into the season.

Let's take a peek, shall we?

by Shirley Reva Vernick
Fitzroy Books
Young Adult Magical Realism / Time Travel
107 pages


Ignored yet again by his crush, Abe Pearlman wanders into Fortunes and Futures for a little diversion. The fortune teller reveals that Abe may be able to save someone’s life. But before he can ask any questions, he’s swept to the slums of Victorian London, where he finds that his crush, Mitzy Singer, has also been banished. Abe and Mitzy soon discover that they’ve been plunked down in the middle of the Jack the Ripper spree. To get back home, they’ll have to work together to figure out how the fortune teller’s prophecy is connected to one of history’s most notorious criminal cases. They’ll also have to survive the outpouring of hate toward Jewish refugees that the Ripper murders triggered. Ripped Away is based on real historical events, including the Ripper crimes, the inquests, and the accusations against immigrants.



History comes to life as an unexpected pair swoops into the grungy life of  Whitechapel, London in the 1880's and has to deal with all the difficulties of that time period.

Abe isn't exactly popular or noticeable or much of anything, but he gets good grades, is a good kid, and has a secret crush on a girl, who refuses to acknowledge anyone. When he visits a fortune teller for fun, he blacks out and finds himself awaking as the assistant to a jeweler in the late 1880's in London. The boy's memories mix with his own, allowing him to seamlessly slide into the life...while he freaks out and tries to figure out how to get home. When he discovers Mitzy living in just as bad conditions as him and as confused as he is, a friendship might form....but then, things aren't easy for their class in that society, prejudices fly, and, to add to the problems, Jack the Ripper is on the loose.

First off, this novel was not nearly as dark as I expected, and instead, took a more historical twist, revealing life styles, prejudices against the Jews, and simply exposing the living conditions and everyday problems people of the lower, working class (especially the Jews) had at that time in London. All of this was done very well and melded perfectly into an exciting tale. So, while my expectations had to take a hard curve, I wasn't disappointed, either. 

Already the beginning of this book had me smiling. Abe speaks directly to the reader and draws in with a personal touch, which does make him and the story connect immediately. He's a good kid with insecurities, but doesn't look down on himself, either....which is refreshing. When he meets the fortune teller and gets whisked away, the transition is quick, but it works thanks to the author's clever twist of having Abe meld with an existing boy during the time period. The sudden murder, trying to adapt to the changes, and everything else, and it's definitely a fast-paced read, which rolls right along from beginning to end. And that in a smooth way, too. 

This is supposedly for a young adult audience, but the writing and Abe come across more like a middle grade novel, and I would definitely recommend it for this younger age group rather than the older one. I do believe middle graders will enjoy this one quite a bit and it does a very good job at bringing the historical period to life in a way that's easy to understand and sympathize with. The prejudice aspect is also very well done and while it doesn't dive into why the Jews are looked down upon, the problems these people face is clear.

I did enjoy Abe and Mitzy quite a bit. They have wonderful personalities, are careful but ready to take on whatever challenge they have to, and have hearts of gold. I would have liked to know more about them before the time swap and missed the depth. But for a middle grade novel this worked well enough and was really an engaging tale from beginning to end. I do hope this is the beginning of a series, since these two have so much potential and tons of adventure waiting in time.

And here she is...

Shirley is the author of four novels for young readers. The American Library Association named The Blood Lie to its list of Best Fiction Books for Young Readers. The Blood Lie also won the Simon Wiesenthal Once Upon A World Book Award and was named an Honor Book in the Los Angeles Unified School District Awards. Her novel Remember Dippy won the Dolly Gray Literature Award from the Council for Exceptional Children. The Black Butterfly is a Junior Library Guild selection. Ripped Away will be released on February 8, 2022.

Shirley is a graduate of Cornell University and an alumna of the Radcliffe Writing Seminars. Her shorter work has appeared in Salon, Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest, and several literary journals.

Shirley also mentors incarcerated individuals with their writing via the Prisoner Express program. 

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