"The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, was the first book ever to make me cry.
"Before that I had read adventure novels and fantasy books. I liked the young adult genres that are more about imagining fun, new worlds than dealing with the real issues in the one we live in. But something about The Chosen got to me.
"I grew up Jewish, but not particularly religious.
"But when I read The Chosen I was moved. I felt this deep connection with all of the people who came before me – generations of ancestors seemed like real people. Brooklyn seemed like a place I should visit, bagels seemed like a food I should eat – not just because they're delicious, but because they were part of my heritage.
"The book is about two boys who grow up in different types of Jewish communities. The first line highlights how separate they were. It reads, "For the first fifteen years of our lives, Danny and I lived within five blocks of each other and neither of us knew of the others existence." Later on, the two boys – Danny and Reuven - meet during a softball game and eventually become somewhat unlikely friends; Danny is from a Hasidic community, and Reuven is from an Orthodox one.
"I didn't know many Orthdox or Hasidic Jews growing up. And I certainly didn't know about the divisions between the two communities. I also didn't know that the book had been a bestseller; or that it had been made into a movie and, briefly, a Broadway play.
"What I did know was that it had strong, flawed characters who gave me a glimpse into a world that felt meaningful. I didn't become Orthodox or Hasidic (I did continue to eat bagels), but I began to see myself in a new way – to understand that I was connected to something larger.
"The Chosen was an important book for 13-year-old me. It felt like a visit to somewhere new, and at the same, it felt like coming home."
All summer long, we've been hearing from NPR staff and journalists who wanted to share their own tales of shock and awe that came from reading a book before their young minds were prepared for what its pages contained. It's our take on NPR Books' PG-13 series, and this week, NPR Books' Rose Friedman remembers how The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, unearthed a connection to her heritage: