Author Meira Drazin admits that as a young child it took her a while to learn how to read. “I was in the lowest reading group in first grade. It was very embarrassing.”
Once it finally clicked, though, Drazin was hooked, reading everything and anything she could. As a young girl she was drawn to writers like Beverly Cleverly and Judy Blume, whose books had characters whose lives were quite different from the one the Modern Orthodox youngster was living in Toronto.
One of the exceptions was the “All-of-a-Kind Family” series by author Sydney Taylor, which Drazin loved as the characters ate Jewish food, celebrated Jewish holidays and more. The Judaism in those books has been called “incidental, but integral,” Drazin said.
Yet, finding other books with Jewish characters proved daunting.
“The only books I saw that had Jews practicing their religion were all set in the past. They looked nothing like my life, nothing like what was going on in my school and with my family and friends,” she explained
That left her longing for a story that mirrored her own life.
It wasn’t until she was an adult that she considered writing those books herself. The result of her efforts is the novel “Honey and Me,” about two girls from Modern Orthodox homes—one of whom is a bit more religious than the other—who navigate their friendship.
Drazin, who is married with four children and lives in London, recounted her path to publication to a small but engaged group of mostly mothers and daughters on December 20 during a visit to the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy.
She was introduced to the audience by her childhood friend, West Orange resident and JKHA parent Stephanie Keiser, who said, “It’s incredible to see one of your oldest friends live out their dreams.”
Keiser also joked that when her own children heard about the book, “they thought it would be about Meira and me.”
During the talk, Drazin explained how she came up with the characters in her book—Milla and Honey—some 10 years ago while taking a course on writing books for young adults in New York City.
At the time, her oldest daughter was just 7 and was reading some of the same books that Drazin herself had enjoyed as a child. Yet, despite the many years that had passed since Drazin read them, there were still no books with Modern Orthodox Jewish characters. “In 30 years that landscape hadn’t changed,” she said.
That’s when the image of two girls on a school bus popped into her head. “One was a bit brazen, chutzpadik” and good at sports, the other girl was quieter and more circumspect. And, Drazin continued, “I realized they were both Jewish. That’s when I could see everything, and I wrote a short story about them.”
That short story in which Milla goes to her friend Honey’s house for Shabbat dinner eventually became the opening chapter of “Honey and Me.”
The book has become a hit in Jewish circles, but it’s also finding an audience among non-Jews who are drawn into the story and connecting with Milla and Honey on an “emotional level,” as they learn a bit about Judaism.
While Drazin may not have had a Jewish author to inspire her when she was younger, she is doing her part to inspire others, such as 9-year-old Hannah Sheps, a fourth-grader at JKHA who attended the talk with her father.
“I really want to be an author and I wanted to hear what she had to say,” Hannah told The Jewish Link, saying that she learned that “you need to do a lot of stuff just to get your book published.” And she isn’t deterred. In fact, hearing from a published author simply reinforced Hannah’s desire to write. As she said, “I really want to keep pursuing my dreams.”
“Honey and Me,” published by Scholastic, can be purchased at https://bit.ly/3VqpOoy and on Amazon.
By Faygie Holt