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Confessions of a Closet Catholic
Sarah Darer Littman

Publishing Information: Dutton: New York, 2005
ISBN: 0525473653 / 0142405973 (PB
: 192 p.
Ages: 8 - 12

To be more like her friend, Justine decides to give up Judaism to become Catholic. But after her beloved, and very religious, Bubbe becomes sick, Justine worries that she is responsible. She talks to Bubbe about her religious concerns, and realizes she must seek her own way of being Jewish.

Book Talk:
Justine Silver's best friend Mac gave up chocolate for Lent. Justine doesn't think God wants her to make that kind of sacrifice, so she gave up chicken, and being Jewish, instead. Of course she can't talk to her family about this. The last time her family had a discussion about religion it was a disaster.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Jews-United States
Catholic Church
Conduct of Life
Family Life
The Holocaust

Awards & Reviews:
Sydney Taylor Book Award's Older Readers Category - Gold Medal, 2006
Association of Jewish Libraries' New & Notable Books for Children, 2006

Justine's experiments with another faith are predicated on her search for answers about her own family's commitment to Judaism, their different practices and outlooks, their social insecurities, and her own search for religious identity. Despite a serious subject, this has the humor and child-appeal of Judy Blume's Are you there God? It's Me, Margaret and can be used as a replacement for that slightly outdated classic. - Children's Book World

"Religious uncertainty is the topic of this middle-grade novel, as the heroine, a Jewish girl, puzzles over the differences between her family's faith and that of her best friend, who is Catholic. Added to the mix is her kosher grandmother, who is approaching the end of her life. What ensues is a sincere effort to explore the intricacies of faith - where it can divide us, and where it can draw us closer together". -

"Funny and tearful"
An "eleven-going-on-twelve-year-old Jewish girl" searches for her identity in this reassuring debut novel about finding one's personal peace-and-comfort zone. Justine, who narrates, has been getting mixed signals about who she's supposed to be all her life. Her father's parents survived the Holocaust and to this day, her grandmother Bubbe keeps kosher. Justine's maternal grandparents, on the other hand, want her to be "Jewish but not 'too Jewish,' " and Justine calls her own parents " 'twice a year' Jews." Justine's best friend, meanwhile, is Catholic-the faith Justine has decided secretly to adopt. Making confession in her bedroom closet to "Father Ted" (her Teddy bear priest), memorizing prayers with rosary beads and pretending to take communion (matzo and grape juice) are some of her rituals. ... Littman gets at the heart of the tug-of-war that goes on between brain and soul as Justine's true personality and value system begin to emerge. The heroine comes across as a likeable kid who tries to make the most informed decisions she can about who she should be-and ultimately embraces who she has been all along. Young readers will find much to savor in the warm, angst-lite tone here, and will likely relate to the universal conflicts and emotional challenges that Littman explores. - Kirkus Reviews

Jussy's confessions are thought-provoking and at times quite humorous. Sarah Darer Littman's first novel is a great book for people of all faiths to read, enjoy, and learn from. - Publishers Weekly, February 28, 2005), p. 68

Grade 4-7 - Justine Silver, 11, has decided to give up being Jewish for Lent. Of course, this is a secret she keeps from her family, along with her regular confessions to her stuffed teddy bear, "Father Ted," who also administers the sacrament when she can sneak upstairs with grape juice and a few matzos. Mac, Justine's best friend at her new school, is Catholic, with straight blonde hair and a large exuberant family that's more fun then hers. And Justine's strange fascination with this "perfect" life and religion has her doubting her own faith, which people in her own family observe in very different ways. She explains to Mac and her family, "....being Jewish is all about suffering ... People hate us, try to kill us, and don't want us to join their country club, while you guys get Christmas trees and Easter eggs." The exploration of faith is the central theme of this book, from Justine's illicit confessions in a Catholic church to the emotional shroud of her grandmother's death. Justine's world is deeply controlled by her guilt about her faithlessness, about how best to worship God, and her turmoil over pleasing her parents. But despite the seemingly profound context, the novel is injected with humor throughout and written with the voice of a contemporary adolescent. Readers can't help but laugh and cry with this winning protagonist. - Kimberly Monaghan, formerly at Vernon Area Public Library, IL Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. - School Library Journal, January 2005, p. 132.

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. What are the differences in the way Justine's family members practice Judaism?
  2. Why did Justine decide to be Catholic? How does she practice being a Catholic? Have you ever considered changing your religion? Why?
  3. What happened to Bubbe's family in Hungary? Do you think that affects how Bubbe feels about her religion?
  4. How are Mac and Justine's families the same? How are they different? How does Justine feel about Mac's family, especially Tommy? What does Mac think of Justine? How does that differ from what Justine thinks about herself?
  5. What do you think is the funniest part in the book? What was the saddest?
  6. What news does Justine learn when she returns from going to mass with Mac's family? How does it make Justine feel?
  7. Why is Justine angry when her sister speaks to her about eating chocolate?
  8. What happens after Justine feeds her dog Bijoux chocolate? How does Justine feel about that?
  9. How does Bubbe react when Justine confesses that she decided to give up being Jewish for Lent? How does Justine's mother react?
  10. Describe Justine's relationship with her sister and brother. What is her relationship with her mother like? How does it change by the end of the book?
  11. What happens when Justine talks to Father Joseph? Where does she start to find answers to her religious confusion?

Related Websites:
Judaism -

Sarah Darer Littman's Website -

Never Mind the Goldbergs by Matthue Roth (2005)
Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (2005)
Prince William, Maximilian Minsky, and Me by Holly-Jane Rahlens(2005)

About the Author:
Sarah Darer Littman, writer, mother, and unpaid chauffeur, is a living example of the cliché, "Life Begins at 40." After spending much of her adult life doing things she didn't really plan to, including such diverse occupations as financial analyst and farmer's wife, she has at long last found her true calling as a writer. She indulges her adult voice as a columnist (under the name Sarah Littman) for the Greenwich Time, a Tribune newspaper, and her first novel, Confessions of a Closet Catholic, published by Dutton Children's Books is now on the shelves of your local bookstore.

She lives in Greenwich, CT with her two children and her dog, Sandy, who was adopted from Adopt-A-Dog. When she's not writing, she loves being with her kids, reading, playing tennis, being on or in the water, traveling, watching movies, live music, dancing and sitting on the porch in the rocking chair her kids got her for her birthday a few years ago, watching the butterflies go by. (Taken from Author's website)
| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair