In this provocative contemporary middle-grade novel, Tziporah Cohen introduces readers to 11-year-old Miriam and her family as they move to Greenvale, New York, to run the Jewel Motor Inn. Even as she helps to fix up the motel, Miriam wants nothing more than to be back home in Manhattan. But when the family can’t get the business off the ground and failure becomes imminent, Jewish Miriam and her new Catholic friend, Kate, take matters into their own hands and devise a plan to attract tourists.
To their surprise, the plan works, and the motel is completely booked. That’s when Miriam begins to question the morality of her actions: is a lie always a bad thing? Moreover, she can’t make sense of her mom’s reluctance in inviting their new friends from the motel and around town to Shabbat dinner. Before Miriam gets the answers she’s searching for, a hate crime at the motel threatens to ruin everything she and her family have worked so hard to build. Kate’s priest, Father Donovan, offers Miriam this hope: “At its worst, religion can make us hate each other, make us suspicious of people who believe differently from what we believe. But at its best, I believe religion can bring out the good in all of us.”
With effortless mastery, Cohen weaves the opposing forces of innocence and corruption, right and wrong, love and hate. Miriam navigates internal and external conflicts with the help of fully developed secondary characters, including Father Donovan, Miriam’s Uncle Mordy, and her friend Anton. Each one speaks with heartwarming tenderness about differences and how they impact people’s lives.
No Vacancy addresses the reality of anti-Semitism, hate, and prejudice prevalent in the daily lives of so many. Cohen makes clear that an act of hatred has the capacity to not only leave a lasting scar but also break the victim’s spirit. Readers will see that the difference between dividing and uniting a community is contained in small yet powerful gestures of acceptance, kindness, and love.