Shayna's Shadows

Shayna's Shadows by Paul Philip Brown

Calling people names:

Is it harmless fun?

Or is it a dangerous first step towards bigotry?

Shayna's arrival at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Junior High School begins well until her Jewishness attracts the wrong kind of attention. Gilbert and his friends seem to be lurking everywhere, and it doesn't look as though they'll ever leave her alone.

From Yorkdale Shopping Centre to the underground city beneath Toronto, from SkyDome to the Young People's Theatre, Shayna struggles to find the courage to confront her tormentors before their hurtful prejudices overwhelm her.


American Jewish Public Library Association Journal

By Rita A. Allen, Har Sinai Temple, Trenton, NJ

We would like to believe that anti-Semitism – overt, in-your-face anti-Semitism – is a thing of the past. We are not so naïve as to imagine that it only exists in veiled form, but we really do not expect to see it blatantly presented, as it is in this realistic novel. Prejudices, stereotyping, and outright bullying occur in a Toronto junior high school, probably similar to the one where the author has been a teacher and guidance counsellor.

Because of academic problems, Shayna Rosen must transfer from her Hebrew day school to a public junior high for remedial reading. Her neighbour, Gilbert Garrett, warns her that the kids are snobbish and the teachers mean, but Shayna does not find this to be true. However, on her first day, she is called “rich Jew” and retaliates with a well-aimed punch. Subsequently, there is additional name-calling and physical abuse. This is common, but the students are too frightened to complain.

Mr. Brown has related the anti-Semitic terrorizing of one girl by a nasty-minded group of discontents. Shayna and her new best friend overhear these students bragging about their responsibility in somehow stealing all the paper in the school. After a difficult field trip when Shayna escapes Gilbert’s terrorizing by running through downtown Toronto, she is able to trick him into confessing to his misdeeds before witnesses. In a final scene, Gilbert is required to attend a performance of The Diary of Anne Frank. Against his will, he is caught up in the story, and troubled by it, although he is unable to see any parallels with his treatment of Jews in the school.

Shayna is a normal teenager: she shops for clothes at the mall and worries about heavy perspiration.

For the benefit of non-Jewish readers, the Sabbath morning service (where the men and women are separated) and the Friday night meal are described.

Will there be a sequel in which Gilbert comes to a greater understanding of the evils of prejudice and begins to look beneath the surface of the individual? Mr. Brown is to be commended for leaving the ending unresolved instead of instant realization and repentance.