I've long admired Kathryn Lasky's work (though I only just now realized how very much she's written, my goodness). She's written quite a few historical fiction novels for the middle grades, including the first "Dear America" book, and this one is also historical fiction, but I think it's pretty unusual.
Jerry has lived much of her life in various Catholic orphanages, wondering if and when her mother will return for her. Now that she's 14, Jerry is going to live on the outskirts of Albuquerque with a great-great aunt she's never met -- Constanza, who lives in an old adobe and bakes bread for a living, and doesn't seem to mind that Jerry hasn't spoken aloud in years. Down in the cellar of the house, Jerry finds an old trunk filled with pieces of part of her family's history. In a series of dream-visions, she learns about her ancestors' secrets, the persecution that followed them, and the tattered remnants of faith and memory that have been passed down.
Jerry goes all the way back to the late 1300s in Spain, when the persecutions of Spanish Jews began. The immense length and weight of the Spanish Inquisition -- almost five hundred years of systematic violence and oppression -- is the real theme of the story. Jerry's ancestors are kept in ghettos, forcibly baptized, sometimes practicing their faith in secret and sometimes losing the knowledge of it. They travel to colonial Mexico in hopes of escaping, only to have the Inquisition arrive once again, ever watching for secret Jews. Eventually, after generations of intermarriage and secrecy, only a few family habits still persist. As Jerry and Constanza come to realize their full family heritage, Jerry also finds her voice.
It's a beautifully written story, with recurring symbols braided into the narrative. I'm really impressed by this unusual and fascinating YA novel. I do think Lasky stretches probability a good bit -- I don't think the family relics could really have lasted that long -- but it's all in a good cause.