Volume 1 Number 16
September 29, 1995

image The Primrose Path.

Carol Matas.
Winnipeg: Bain & Cox, 1995. 152pp, paper, $9.95.
ISBN 0-921368-55-0. CIP.

Subject Heading:
Child sexual abuse-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6 - 10 / Ages 11 - 15.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.

As in Sworn Enemies and The Burning Time, Carol Matas again displays her ability to spin a good story while writing about tough, hard hitting subject matter. Teen readers will profit greatly by pausing to read the brief quotation from Hamlet that precedes the opening chapter. Ophelia's concern about pastors who preach to others "the steep and thorny way to Heaven," while treading "the primrose path" of pleasure themselves, foreshadows the book's contents.

Like Ask Me No Questions by Linda Phillips, Peter Ringrose, and Michael Winter, the major focus of The Primrose Path is juvenile sexual abuse, but here the abuser is not a parent but another trusted adult, a Rabbi. Matas creates a convincing chain of events leading to the abuse. Following the death of her maternal grandmother, and as a new school year looms, Debbie Mazur, fourteen, moves with her family from the West coast to the East. Debbie's mother, still grieving, finds emotional solace in the charismatic Rabbi of a neighbourhood Orthodox synagogue and decides that Debbie would benefit academically by attending the attached Hebrew school.

As the Mazurs had previously gone to a Reform temple, Debbie initially rebels and feels alienated by the unfamiliar Orthodox rituals and observances. Debbie's attitudes change, though, when she is befriended by four fellow grade-nine girls who seem to enjoy a special relationship with Rabbi Werner, their handsome Hebrew teacher. Werner is also the school's principal -- and the same rabbi who has been providing such support for her mother. But as Debbie comes to discover personally, while tickling and romping with the girls, Rabbi Werner "accidentally" touches their breasts. At first Debbie is embarrassed and tries to explain away the touching, but when Rabbi Werner eventually extends his "tickling" to her "privates," she recognizes his behaviour to be clearly inappropriate.


Matas effectively captures the young teen's ongoing emotional confusion; because she initially enjoys and even wants the Rabbi's attentions, Debbie vacillates about what to do. When she finally confides in her father, Debbie only tells him about the Rabbi's hugging and non-sexual tickling. Though she insists her father take no action, her limited disclosure sets in motion a series of events that culminates in Rabbi Werner having to appear before his board to answer not only Debbie's charges but those of others as well.

Some adults wanting "justice" may be disappointed by the book's ending, for the wrongdoer is not clearly punished; however, Matas realistically reveals what can occur when questions of morality become tangled in adult "politics" and reputation. Matas also adds to the book's impact by entwining Debbie's problems with her parents' marital difficulties. The troubled family situation increases Debbie's vulnerability and limits her parents' ability to respond concertedly.

To help readers unfamiliar with the Jewish faith, Matas provides a six-page glossary of terms encountered in the story.

An excerpt of The Primrose Path appeared in Volume 1, Number 15 of CM magazine.

Highly recommended.

Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and Young Adult literature in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

Copyright © 1995 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

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