Day school and punk rock collide in teen novel
Author Micol Ostow draws on her own mixed background and day school education for inspiration.
In her latest book, So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint your Mother), Ostow, a graduate of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in West Orange, outlines the misadventures of four New Jersey suburban day school teens who form a punk rock band and make a splash on the bar mitzva circuit.
Among her previous seven works is Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa, about a girl coming to terms with being half-Puerto Rican and half-Jewish, a heritage shared by the author, who was raised in a Conservative home. She has two more books set to come out in the spring and summer.
On Saturday, Dec. 11, after Shabbat services, Ostow will hold a discussion for young people ages nine and up and their families at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, during a family celebration of National Jewish Book Month. (A simultaneous graphic novel-making workshop will be held for younger children.) Appearing with her will be her brother, David, who did the art for So Punk Rock.
The South Orange native author spoke to NJJN by phone from her Manhattan home, where she lives with her Emmy Award-winning filmmaker husband Noah Harlan, a Cranbury native who grew up attending Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction.
Ostow said that writing about teenage boys, rather than girls, was her biggest challenge in penning So Punk Rock.
“I kept running things by my brother” — David Ostow, who did the art for So Punk Rock — “when I wasn’t sure of the phrasing,” she said. “I also ran some things by him in terms of music because I don’t have any talent in that area. Certainly, I didn’t have to research what it was like in a Jewish day school, although things have changed since I was there, but not in a way that would impact the writing.”
Ostow described the book as “The VH1 Behind the Music story of an epic kosher garage band that never was.”
Among its many awards, So Punk Rock was named a 2010 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Teens by the Association of Jewish Libraries.
‘Knows where they came from’
Temple Emanu-El has hosted other authors, said family education and religious school committee chair Janet Alder Suss, “but this time we wanted to get someone teens would enjoy and also span the gender gap.”
“We also have a big Friday night-centered congregation, and we’re hoping to get more people interested in coming Saturday morning by offering programs following services,” said Suss.
The 34-year-old Ostow said she didn’t have Solomon Schechter schools necessarily in mind when writing the novel. She said she took some “creative license” in coming up with the Leo R. Gittleman Jewish Day School, where her 16-year-old bandleader protagonist Ari Abramson is a junior.
“Basically he wants to be cooler and more high profile, so he recruits his older best friend to form an indie garage band,” said Ostow. “Out of necessity he has to also recruit the most religious kid in school because he is the only one he knows who has a set of drums. Then they are forced to take this kid’s sister, who sings in the Hanukka choir.”
Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa revolves around a young girl who was raised not to think of herself as Puerto Rican, said Ostow. However, when her grandmother dies, she accompanies her mother to her native island, where Emily gets to know her Puerto Rican relatives and roots.
“Emily Goldberg was definitely more autographical for me,” said Ostow. “However, my mother’s family was mostly in New Jersey so I saw them all the time. The book is really about making sure everybody knows where they came from.”