Pearl Abraham's debut novel, The Romance Reader, details the challenges faced by a teenage girl growing up in a Satmar family in the 1970s. Rachel Benjamin is the oldest of seven children (Abraham herself was third of nine), and her childhood environment is even more intense than the average ultra-Orthodox home. Her father, an aspiring scholar and rabbi, has the family living in a rural summer hotel that has fallen into disuse, rather than in Williamsburg, Brooklyn—where they would at least have a community of people like them. The good news for Rachel is that because there aren't other Satmarers around, she can occasionally slip away to the public library to check out English-language books, which are forbidden as secular foolishness by her dad. Rachel's taste runs to romances like Victoria Holt's, though she also enjoys English classics; on a couple of occasions Abraham's otherwise straightforward narrative follows along as Rachel's fantasies of love, based on what she's been reading, unfurl. Throughout the book, Rachel struggles to compromise with her father's demands—she manages to become a lifeguard for an all-female pool, but never gets permission to wear less obtrusive stockings—but ultimately, when she's pressed, at 18, into an arranged marriage, she finds the courage to break away and pursue a different life.
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