Varya, Simon, Klara, and Daniel, the siblings, meet an old woman in a cramped and hot apartment. They have saved up and pooled their allowance; they overheard other kids in the neighborhood saying that “the woman on Hester Street” could tell you the date of your death.
She gives gives our fearless foursome their dates; they do not share them with each other nor does the author share them with the reader. We then follow the four, one at a time, as they grow up and approach their given dates.
Each child is given their own distinct section of the book, and their point of view takes over from the last. There is love, despair, tragedy, jealousy, and possibly magic afoot- but it all feels cold and calculated. The story feels engineered to make the reader emotionally invested, but since the outlines are so clear I ended up feeling emotionally manipulated more than anything else.
I was compelled to read; I wanted to know if there was truth to what the Woman on Hester Street had said, but every child was dealt gut-punch after gut-punch, leaving me feeling both spent and used. The author describes her characters from an almost clinical standpoint; you feel empathy towards them because it would be impossible not to were their experiences happening to real people, but you are also oddly detached because each piece of the puzzle feels like a checking-of-the-boxes. It was well written, but without any real life.