Author: Sarah Aronson
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab, 2013
Reviewer: Sharon M. Himsl
Age level: 14-18, Young Adult
Janine Collins (16) of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is not sure what she believes. As sole survivor of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem ten years ago, Janine became “America’s blessed child.” Pulled from the rubble by Dave Armstrong, an American preacher and instructor, the rescue was deemed a miracle. Now on the bombing’s tenth anniversary news reporters are lining up to interview her. Janine has no desire to be a celebrity. She was the victim of a bombing that killed her parents. She hardly feels “blessed.” She has deformed and scarred hands that ache constantly, although she dreams of being a clothing designer. She only wants to be left alone.
With the help of friends and Aunt Lo (Mom’s sister and now her guardian), Janine embarks on a plan to avoid the reporters. The plan nearly works, until her good friend Abe is struck by a car in a freak accident. Janine is not sure if she even believes in God, but at the hospital Abe makes a miraculous recovery when she touches him with her hands. Word reaches the press that Janine has special healing abilities. Dave Armstrong, whose ministry has grown since the bombing, is quick to promote Janine’s new healing ability. Janine is caught up in the euphoria. She even thinks she has healed a paralyzed boy, until it is revealed that the boy has faked his condition. Corruption is uncovered and Armstrong is arrested.
Meanwhile, Janine has alienated her friends. Disillusioned and alone, Janine returns to what has bothered her most of all, her parents’ death—mom’s death in particular. Mom was the sole reason Janine had survived. She begins to wonder about Mom’s beliefs. Mom and Lo had abandoned their Jewish roots. At Lo’s suggestion, Janine reads her mom’s journal and makes some shocking discoveries. Lo is there to soothe the pain but Janine is now interested in meeting her Jewish grandparents. More grounded than ever before, Janine is finally willing to talk to the press.
This is a complex story with lots going on. The background story of Janine's Jewish roots on her mother's side is intriguing but unresolved at the end. There is hope that Janine will believe in something at some point, given her interest in her Jewish grandparents, but what she believes in most at the end, her own personhood, seems to have been the author's intent. Janine's passion for sewing and clothing design is either dropped or left hanging. I wanted so much to see her succeed. I wanted to see more of her friendship with Emma, too. What happened to Emma? But as I said, this is a rather complex story. To have developed more (my preference) would have taken more pages. All said, Aronson's Believe is thought-provoking and different.