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The Path of Names

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Mysteries, mazes, and magic combine in this smart, funny summer-camp fantasy -- like THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY for kids!

Dahlia Sherman loves magic, and Math Club, and Guitar Hero. She isn't so fond of nature walks, and Hebrew campfire songs, and mean girls her own age.

All of which makes a week at Jewish summer camp pretty much the worst idea ever.

But within minutes of arriving at camp, Dahlia realizes that it might not be as bad as she'd feared. First she sees two little girls walk right through the walls of her cabin. Then come the dreams -- frighteningly detailed visions of a young man being pursued through 1930s New York City. How are the dreams and the girls related? Why is Dahlia the only one who can see any of them? And what's up with the overgrown, strangely shaped hedge maze that none of the campers are allowed to touch? Dahlia's increasingly dangerous quest for answers will lead her right to the center of the maze -- but it will take all her courage, smarts, and sleight-of-hand skills to get her back out again.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published April 30, 2013

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About the author

Ari B. Goelman

9 books51 followers
Ari Goelman is the award winning author of The Innocence Treatment and The Path of Names. In addition to writing fiction, he teaches at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and enjoys biking in the rain, especially when it stops raining. He lives in Vancouver with his family. If you want to learn more about Ari and his writing, check out www.arigoelman.com.

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5 stars
100 (26%)
4 stars
140 (37%)
3 stars
89 (23%)
2 stars
27 (7%)
1 star
15 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 88 reviews
Profile Image for jv poore.
612 reviews207 followers
June 24, 2013
Bribery. Her parents could call it whatever they wanted, but it was plain and simple bribery. If Dahlia wanted to attend the coveted Magic Camp, she must first endure three weeks at Camp Arava. Attending a Jewish camp, without being able speaking Hebrew, would be tough enough; but when it just so happens that her brother is Super-Star Counselor, Dahlia knows she is in for a very long three weeks.

Upon arrival, Dahlia notices two girls. As she observes the pair with a vague sense of curiosity, the girls seem to vanish by walking through a cabin wall. Admirer of all things magic, Dahlia is intrigued by this trick and she hurries into the cabin to meet the amazing magician. Dahlia was shocked and frustrated to find the cabin completely empty. She would certainly get to the bottom of this---even if it took all three weeks to do it. Of course, it couldn’t be that easy.

Dahlia is quickly immersed in matters beyond her wildest imagination. She may be going insane, or she may be possessed. Possibly, she is seeing ghosts. Definitely, she has discovered a maze, grown over with snarled brush. The caretaker is certainly odd, almost menacing. The missing campers are real. The Torah becomes instrumental. Her wicked math skills (that have oft been mocked) are used in a way that few math teachers would ever anticipate. Her determination and doggedness in gathering help along the way is courageous and admirable.

Mr. Goelman has created a remarkably unique, mysterious ghost story, on the surface. Digging a bit deeper, or simply letting the tale simmer in my mind, made me realize that there is more to the book. Relationships run the gamut from siblings’ love/hate mentality, to sweet and tender young adoration, to putting aside differences for the greater good---or refusing to do so. This book is Middle-Grade genre and I would happily recommend it to the Middle-Grade reader that says, “I have NOTHING to read”. This refreshing change step away from werewolves and vampires would be a welcome suggestion.
Profile Image for Christina (A Reader of Fictions).
4,230 reviews1,652 followers
July 1, 2013
There's this old song called "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" about a young boy whose parents force him to go to camp. It's a funny, silly song, written like a letter to his parents. At first, he hates camp and is begging them to come and get him, but, by the end, he loves it. On the simplest level, this is the plot of Ari Goelman's The Path of Names.

Dahlia differs from the usual middle grade heroine. She's grumpy and antisocial, preferring math and practicing magic tricks to spending time with people. When her parents force her to go to a Jewish camp, she's pissed. She doesn't have any interest in Judaism and would prefer to be at math camp. Her parents promise to let her leave after a week if she completely hates it and she plans to, but instead she gets caught up and the weeks pass almost without her realizing. All it takes to make a girl love summer camp and befriend people is a couple of ghosts, possession, and a mystery, no big deal.

Immediately upon Dahlia's arrival in camp, she sees two girls run through a wall. Because of her love of magic, she suspects there's another aspiring magician in camp, but her search proves fruitless. When she realizes she's been seeing ghosts, though, Dahlia's hooked. She begins researching these two girls, only to discover that they disappeared 72 years before. They're also trying to warn her about something.

Oh, also, Dahlia's been possessed by a dead man's spirit and she's dreaming his memories. The Path of Names deals heavily with Jewish mysticism and themes. I really appreciated reading a novel set in a tradition outside of the Christian. Also, though religion is obviously a huge plot element, the book did not feel preachy in the slightest. Goelman gets into kabbalah a bit, and it's all pretty fascinating.

The Path of Names is told in third person, rotating through third person limited perspectives. Though most often focused on thirteen-year-old Dahlia, the perspective also goes to her older brother (16), a camp counselor, and David Schank (19), the young man possessing Dahlia. I feel like I say this a lot in my middle grade reviews, but this is really a story that works for all ages. Goelman's writing and plotting are sophisticated, and not written down to a younger audience.

In fact, I'm not a hundred percent sure how much the average kid would enjoy The Path of Names, with the discussions of math and Hebrew. I thought it was very well done and enjoyable myself, but the pace was a bit on the slower side. I imagine it's a better book for kids on the older side of the middle grade spectrum, as the reading level is fairly high.

If you've been looking for a middle grade novel set in a different culture or a cool ghost story, The Path of Names is an excellent choice. Goelmans writes well, and I'd certainly be willing to read more of his books in the future.
Profile Image for Chris.
1,851 reviews73 followers
December 17, 2013
A thirteen-year-old girl, summer camp, ghosts, a mysterious caretaker, her older brother, magic tricks, math, mazes, and Jewish mysticism.

An interesting mix of elements that worked well enough together to make an interesting, engaging story, but not quite well enough to feel like they gelled into something I could get truly swept away by--I could feel the author trying just a little too hard. By the end of the book I wanted to know more about the workings of Kabbalah as the source of this book's magic, and I wished it hadn't been so obviously glossed over as too dense to be part of an appealing story. But, while I had a very good first impression of Dahlia and felt her interactions with the other characters were believable throughout the story, neither she nor any of the others ever grew on me. Ultimately, it felt like her interest in magic tricks and math were constructs to make the Kabbalah magic seem appealing to her, not because she was a real person with real passions. Nevertheless, I liked her and was just as curious as she was to figure out what was going on.
Profile Image for InYourFaceNewYorker.
144 reviews4 followers
May 13, 2013
With an intricate story that combines folklore, horror, magic-- and everyday adolescent relationship issues-- "The Path of Names" takes the reader on an exciting adventure. Thirteen-year-old Dalhia Sherman would rather spend her summer days doing magic tricks or math than going to Camp Arava. What starts out as typical adolescent anxiety about going into an unfamiliar setting turns into an mystery about missing kids, ghosts, and Ned MacMasters. Anybody who's ever been to overnight camp probably remembers an urban legend that is told year after year to scare the little kids (at a Camp in Michigan that I worked at it was The Mad Chopper!), but the MacMasters story may actually be true! Who are those ghosts who keep showing up? Why isn't anybody allowed to go near the hedge maze in the woods? And who is Ned MacMasters, anyway?

On top of the mystery are other little nuances that anybody who's ever been to camp will recognize-- pranks that kids play on each other, less-than-stellar counselors, cold showers, nicknames that can't be shaken off...

Overall, an excellent read! If I were still living in NYC, I would have finished this book a lot sooner (I got most of my reading done on the subway). But now I have less time to read. Whenever I had to put this book down I did so reluctantly!
Profile Image for Robin.
1,505 reviews41 followers
October 19, 2013
I am giving this 5 stars even before I finish because:
Who writes a book about a smart girl who loves math and magic tricks and gets unwillingly involved in kabbalah and mysterious disappearances at a Jewish summer camp? Points for sheer originality and hitting so many of my personal interests in one swoop! Also, I even wanted to keep reading this book when I was home in bed with chills and sweats and a raging headache and food poisoning. The only regret I have about the story so far is that Goelman felt he had to include the obligatory fashionable 'mean girls.' They felt fake. I think he knows camp and magic and Jewish history better than he knows teenagers. I forgive him.

P.S. I did win this in a giveaway from Tablet magazine and I am keeping it.
Profile Image for Ellen.
99 reviews5 followers
June 8, 2013
Jewish mysticism and summer camp. A young adult book that is compared to Harry Potter. I wouldn't go that far but it kept me entertained and engaged. Even without any Jewish knowledge I think this book will appeal to the 11 to 14 year old young adult.
Profile Image for Rose Lerner.
Author 20 books554 followers
August 20, 2013
This book was absolutely incredible. I can't recommend it highly enough. The narrator, Dahlia, is a geeky girl who'd rather go to math camp again or stay home practicing magic tricks than go to Jewish summer camp, and I loved her. Plus, who doesn't enjoy Kabbala, golems, and numerology?
121 reviews3 followers
September 5, 2013
the path of names lured me into the entrance and didn't let me out again until the last word. with twists and turns and surprises at every corner, The Path of Names whizzed me through the maze and dumped me in reality; dazed and spellbound.
Profile Image for shrug city.
628 reviews
April 10, 2017
A fun middle grade novel with a cool, unique magic system based on Jewish culture, interesting stuff about cryptology, magic and history that I'd have really loved as a kid, and a great heroine. Dahlia is a realistically sulky thirteen-year-old. Ari Goelman is great at putting us into the curiosity and confusion and embarrassment of being thirteen, and though I never went to summer camp, Dahlia's cast of supporting characters, including mean-girl Courtney (who has one of the more realistic portrayals I've seen in middle-grade fiction: she's kind of a jerk, but that doesn't make her a horrible person), not-love interest Rafe and superior older brother Todd, felt real as well. I also really dug the rotating perspectives. David Schank's story works really well both as a look into 1940s Orthodox Jewish New York and a reminder of what the stakes are beyond just summer camp.
Profile Image for Ariel.
1,716 reviews30 followers
February 4, 2013
A very interesting combination of elements. Some of my favorite bits are actually not magical, about the American Jewish camping experience which has so shaped my own family (my parents began dating as counselors at Camp Mossad in 1950). The author does a lovely job of capturing the gentle rhythm of the Jewish week at camp and the growing intensity of the friendships made in the close atmosphere of camp. This world isn't captured in a lot of children's books for some reason, maybe because most Jewish children's books seem to center on either the Holocaust or the bar/bat mitzvah experience. It's very nice to find a good children's book that ISN'T about either of those two things.

Then there is the other story about Kabbalah, which I also very much liked. I loved the "path of names" itself, which is a bushy maze representing the letters and attributes of God. I loved the way the author worked in the Kabbalistic idea of intention, that planting the bushes while thinking certain thoughts, would make it magic.

I was surprised and by the author's take on the ibur, which is a benign form of possession that is usually carried out via an object (in this case a Kabbalistic book). Usually, though, the possessing spirit is a dead rabbi who is supposed to give the possessed person additional knowledge of the Torah and Talmud or to finish a work of scholarship. In this case the ibur seems more like the better known dybbuk, which is a dead person who possesses someone's body in order to finish an unfinished task. Also the ibur is usually the same sex as its possessor (has to be because traditionally the rabbis and the Torah scholars are all men and the ibur is for prayer and scholarship); it's the dybbuk that is usually of the opposite sex. But whatever, the combination made it a livelier story.

Also was surprised by the role of the 72nd name of God, though I liked it. I thought it was the 72-letter name of God. Again, I liked the way that even thinking about the name would attract the evil people who wanted to control its power. This seemed, again, to tie into the idea of Kabbalistic intention as all-powerful.

I'd like to see more from this author!
Profile Image for Lara.
4,144 reviews340 followers
May 4, 2013
So, I picked this up partly because I liked the idea of a story taking place at summer camp with characters who are about the same age that I was the one year I went to camp, and partly because it's a Jewish summer camp, and I wanted to know what that might be like (mine was called Camp Olympia and was based around Greek mythology and the Peloponnesian War, so...kinda different). I enjoyed the characters, and found the mystery pretty interesting--ghosts, a mysterious camp caretaker, an overgrown maze in the woods... I liked that main character Dahlia has to work with a girl who is kind of a snobby jerk to figure things out, and I enjoyed her sometimes awkward friendship with Rafe, aka "the Professor." I found the ending pretty satisfying.

Why 3 stars instead of 4? Honestly, I think I would have rated this much higher if I had more of a familiarity with Judaism and Kabbalah; I just kept feeling like I was missing things, like...I guess I wanted to know more about why certain things were important, or worked the way they did. It definitely got me interested in reading a little more about several of the topics touched on here. Even so, I think this book will definitely appeal to kids of all backgrounds--there's mystery and adventure, friendship and magic... I would actually kind of love to see this become a series, because I found the characters really engaging, and I think there are not nearly enough good summer camp books! How about it, Ari Goelman?

...And actually, you know what? On second thought? I think I will bump my rating up to a four after all, because I keep thinking about certain aspects of this book that were so much fun for me. And I always think it's pretty great when books manage to peak my interest in researching topics I don't know much about. So!
Profile Image for Yapha.
2,625 reviews72 followers
August 31, 2013
I loved this book. It has an amazing mix of themes that I have not seen anywhere else. Plus, it was based in a Habonim-like summer camp, a sister to my own camp, which was so accurately portrayed, it brought me right back there!

Dahlia's parents are bribing her to spend first session at her older brother's camp in exchange for a week at the magic camp that she really wants to go to. She has absolutely no desire to spend three weeks at a Jewish summer camp in the woods. Once she gets there, though, strange things begin to happen. She sees two girls in old-fashioned clothing seemingly disappear through the wall of her cabin. She begins to have vivid dreams about a young ultra-Orthodox nan in New York in the 1930s. Stranger still, the book in her dream appears in her activity group about Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). Dahlia's time at camp goes quickly as she figures out the connection between all of these events, and even makes some friends in the process. A little scary, it is great for readers who want a mystery replete with ghosts, magic, and summer camp. Recommended for grades 5-8.
Profile Image for Barbara.
13.1k reviews271 followers
May 25, 2013
Not one for the faint-hearted, this title mixes modern day adolescent angst about fitting in, summer camp, and sibling rivalry with a mystery rooted in religion and folklore. The story centers on fourteen-year-old Dahlia Sherman, a teen more interested in numbers, magic tricks, and games than in the typical pursuits at Camp Arava. But her parents want her to learn to be more social, which ends with their cutting a deal with her to attend this camp in order to attend magic camp later in the summer. Dahlia is not too thrilled with camp until she spies two girls disappearing through a wall. What looks like a clever magic trick turns out to have a supernatural reason behind it, and Dahlia keeps seeing the girls and dreaming of David Schank who somehow knows the 72nd name of God and is responsible for the maze on the camp property. Readers who like challenging problems will enjoy trying to solve this one in which lives and power are at stake.
Profile Image for Abby.
80 reviews1 follower
June 8, 2013
I really enjoyed it! Very good story, though spookier than I would choose under normal circumstances. The fifth star is probably because I went to camp with the author for a couple of years, and really enjoyed the reminders of camp life. The writing and stories are good, though the jumping back and forth between the two time periods gets a bit choppy at times (which often is an issue with multi-perpective/ multi-era writing). But the stories from both times are interwoven well, he did a great job writing about 13-year-old girls' social world at summer camp, and, while I don't know how accurate the kabbalistic stuff is, it was internally consistent. All in all, a fun read, though parents might want to screen it before having a kid under 11 read it if they aren't fans of ghost stories.
Profile Image for Tamsyn.
1,229 reviews6 followers
August 26, 2013
I'm not sure how to categorize this story because of the unusual combination of elements here: Dahlia, a girl who loves math and magic, has been bribed to spend a session at the Jewish camp where her brother will be a counselor. Once there, she ends up in a class about Kabbalah, which initially intrigues her because of its relationship to numerology, but then loses her interest. Meanwhile, 2 little girls are visible only to Dahlia, and she starts having dreams of an Othodox Jewish man named David and his life 72 years earlier. Combine this with the daily life of a summer camp and the campers she meets, and it makes for a very off-the-beaten-path (of names). It definitely intrigued me, created suspense, and held my interest.
Profile Image for Anna.
125 reviews3 followers
February 11, 2014
This is a smart, sophisticated mystery with religious mysticism and moral quandaries aplenty. A young girl with a passion for math and magic attends Jewish summer camp to discover ghosts, visiting dream spirits and something sinister lurking. It was really dark, even with splashes of humor added in. I did enjoy this story, though I feel it would have been more successful as a true teen story. The cover alone makes it appear juvenile, when the subject matter, for me, was much more mature. Elements of it reminded me of Libba Bray's The Diviners or Cat Winters' In the Shadow of Blackbirds.
8 reviews2 followers
March 4, 2016
I love this book. In some way, I am related to Dahlia, the main character. Dahlia, always expects something bad to happen at the sleep away camp that she is going to. Her older brother Tom is a counselor at the camp. Tom is always standing for her. Barry the caretaker never shows his face in front of campers. And he is always keeping kids away from the maze that is causing some trouble at the camp. But be warned, once you start reading this book, it is too good to stop reading.
Profile Image for Sharon.
1,571 reviews15 followers
September 1, 2014
Plot, characters, and setting all come together for a perfect mystery! Plot had a touch of historical background, but the Jewish mysticism and the Golem added depth to the plot. The story definitely takes place on more than one level! Dialogue between the characters was so authentic I could hear them speaking in my head. I could reread this one.
Profile Image for Kris.
1,186 reviews12 followers
July 20, 2013
Recommended for gr. 6-9 (Book Review Center). Special interests: Magic tricks, Judaism, Kabbalah.

The last thing Darla wants is to go to a Jewish summer camp, but it is the only way her parents will agree to also send her to magic and math summer camp. Once there, however, strange things begin to happen, possibly related to some old tales about the camp property.
1 review
October 23, 2020
I thought that this book was a good mix of fantasy and magic. For me it was one of my favorite books. It was very suspenseful at some parts and I just didn’t want to put it down. It had ghosts and things that had happed in the past that led up to events in the future. It took place in a Jewish camp. It had to do with stuff that was in the Bible sort of.
Profile Image for Pninit.
2 reviews
July 19, 2013
Excellent middle-school novel. It has just enough mysticism and spookiness to excite a middle-schooler without leading to full-on nightmares. The plot blends Jewish-mysticism, sibling relationships, and navigating the politics of the average tween.
Profile Image for Laura.
169 reviews5 followers
July 16, 2013
A really interesting combination of summer camp story, paranormal activity and jewish mystic theories. A fune quick read that drew me in.
Profile Image for Kristi.
Author 3 books48 followers
August 26, 2013
I was so surprised by this book. It is definitely unique and very intriguing.

It's like a Jewish Da Vinci Code for kids.
1,829 reviews1 follower
August 31, 2013
I enjoyed both the mystery and the Jewish culture info embedded in the book. Very well written. Wish there had been more about David and less about Tom, though. I really liked David!
Profile Image for Mia.
25 reviews2 followers
July 7, 2016
Before I meant to say currently reading but I'm finished now. It was a bit scary. REALLY SCARY.
Profile Image for Michael.
203 reviews6 followers
January 19, 2021
A remarkably well-crafted piece of young adult fiction, thoughtful and detailed, with an engaging protagonist and a deep and thorough internal logic and parallel plotlines covering contemporary pre-teen summer camp and a rich mythology of kabbalah and Jewish mysticism.

The plot opens with a scenario so familiar as to threaten cliché: a cynical and intellectual and perhaps neurodivergent girl of thirteen is dropped off at summer camp by her parents, where she immediately looks with dismay at the surroundings and the other girls with whom she's supposed to fit in. It's a Jewish camp, but the Judaism is pretty loosely characterized —��the Israeli camp counselors, the references to announcements made in Hebrew to a largely religiously disengaged group of campers. The religious and cultural content doesn't emerge in depth until the parallel plotline emerges from the 1940s with a young yeshiva bocher, a gifted scholar in training in an ultraorthodox community in New York. His theological discovery, which proposes to offer both great power and grave risk, is transmitted mysteriously over the years to the young tween arriving at camp, placing her in a position of danger but also responsibility.

It's been commented that most YA fiction involving wizards and supernatural creatures and other dangers comes from a European Christian ethos (what is goth culture, if not an inversion of the aesthetics of European Christianity?). This book pulls off a rare trick of creating a YA supernatural adventure based on Judaic roots and traditions, down to the kabbalistic teachings and yiddishkeit.

Sadly, this book appears not to have reached a broad audience and is not in print, but I would highly recommend for any parents of thoughtful teens and tweens, especially but not exclusively those with a knowledge of Jewish tradition and belief.

Incidentally, this book is edited by Cheryl Klein, who is not just an acclaimed editor of children's literature, but an alumna of my alma mater. Pretty much anything she has edited or worked on is of high quality.
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