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No Vacancy

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Buying and moving into the run-down Jewel Motor Inn in upstate New York wasn’t eleven-year-old Miriam Brockman’s dream, but at least it’s an adventure. Miriam befriends Kate, whose grandmother owns the diner next door, and finds comfort in the company of Maria, the motel’s housekeeper, and her Uncle Mordy, who comes to help out for the summer. She spends her free time helping Kate’s grandmother make her famous grape pies and begins to face her fears by taking swimming lessons in the motel’s pool.

But when it becomes clear that only a miracle is going to save the Jewel from bankruptcy, Jewish Miriam and Catholic Kate decide to create their own. Otherwise, the No Vacancy sign will come down for good, and Miriam will lose the life she’s worked so hard to build.

224 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2020

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 103 reviews
Profile Image for Francisco.
Author 22 books54.9k followers
July 18, 2020
I am careful about using the word love to describe how I feel about a book. I want to preserve the power of the word - save it for when it really counts. It is even rarer for me to use it on a Middle Grade novel. But - I loved this little book. I'm sixty-seven years old and I loved it. It is very difficult to create child characters that are both recognizably "ordinary" and "extraordinary" enough to keep an old man interested for two hundred and so pages - but Miriam, the main character and narrator of this story is such a person. When you get a character like that what happens is that they remind you of some lost goodness, some openness to life and to others that may have faded away through time, but which you would like to recover before it is too late. Which is not to say that a fourteen-year-old reading this book won't feel a similar kinship. But what I liked the most about No Vacancy was the courage of the author to write a suspenseful, interesting story where the conflict and the drama of the story revolves around religion. These days, it is easier to sell a book about sexual abuse than it is to write intelligent fiction about religion. Not religion in the abstract, but embodied in the beliefs and actions of a Jewish girl and her family living in a for the most part Christian world. To do this with the eyes of truth - seeing the prejudice toward persons of a different faith that may exist in the minds of both Jews and Christians is an act of courage that should be commended wherever it appears, even in a Middle Grade novel. We tend to look down on Children's books as not quite the real thing- but there are gems out there that are beautifully written and full of power, wisdom and heart. This is one of them.
Profile Image for Joanne.
Author 11 books212 followers
September 25, 2020
This book's premise was slightly ridiculous but hilarious and actually dovetailed well with the themes about religion and religious and cultural identity. It felt like Schitt's Creek meet's Front Desk (Front Desk, #1) by Kelly Yang in all the best ways. It was fun and had a lot of heart, touching on important and timely topics but was not heavy-handed. I also appreciated that it showed - even within a small family - a range of Jewish practice that felt authentic.
An excellent mirror and window book for all readers.
Profile Image for Liza Wiemer.
Author 5 books657 followers
November 15, 2020
This book had me on the edge of my seat. I needed to know what would happen to Miriam's family and the decrepit motel that they purchased. Would they go bankrupt? How it's saved had my heart pounding. The exploration of Jewish practice and the relationship between the Jewish community and the Catholic community added an important dimension. With a beautiful cast of characters, Tziporah Cohen wrote a story that explores faith, friendship, and the impact that fear and hatred has on a family and a community. It's so cleverly written and filled with heart. Brava, Tzippy!
871 reviews7 followers
September 5, 2022
I picked this book up at a little free library, and I enjoyed reading it very much. It is geared toward children and talks a lot about religion. The main character and her family are Jewish and she makes friends with some Christians who live next-door. Miriam and her family have bought an old motel after her father lost his job..Things are looking really bad for them until Miriam and her friend Kate come up with a solution.
Profile Image for Pam Withers.
Author 29 books48 followers
February 28, 2021
Unfortunately, the pacing in this novel is off. For long stretches it's flat, yet in other places it's fun and engaging. Seems to me it doesn't really pick up till halfway through. Until then, the novel works over-hard at plot setup and description, without much action.
But hang in there. The main characters are fun and believable, the two girls' friendship and mischievousness is entertaining, and the novel's goal of teaching middle-graders something about both Judaism and Christianity, and how people of different faiths can get along, works. Meanwhile, the subplots and cast of characters keeps it interesting.
Rather than say more, I'll simply share a few paragraphs:
"Why do some people hate Jews?"
Father Donovan looks out at the cars in the parking lot for a bit before he answers.
"Have you ever made assumptions about something or someone but then found out you were wrong?"
The first thing I think of is the geodes at the Crystal Caverns store, how they look like ugly brown rocks on the outside but are beautiful jewels on the inside...
"When someone is different from us," he says, "sometimes we jump to conclusions instead of taking the time to understand.... 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."

Profile Image for Ms. Yingling.
1,390 reviews491 followers
November 6, 2022
E ARC provided by Netgalley.com

Miriam Brockman is not thrilled when her family moves from New York City to a small town in upstate New York to run the Jewell Motor Inn. Since her father lost his job, the family thinks it is a good idea. There are some things that are interesting about the experience, like living in two adjoining motel rooms and having her Uncle Mordy spend the summer with them fixing the place up, but Miriam misses her friends. There are also so few Jewish people in town that the family would have to travel twenty minutes away for a congregation. Miriam manages to make friends with Kate, whose grandmother runs the diner next door, and even helps peel the grapes for the famous pie at the diner. She also enjoys helping out the one maid, Maria, who is worried that if business doesn't improve, she may be out of a job. Even though the Brockmans are making huge strides in fixing up the outdated business, there are still very few customers. When she and Kate are fooling around at the local abandoned drive in, they talk about how some communities had a lot of tourism when a picture of the Virgin Mary appeared-- it's not that hard to take a couple of swift knife strokes to the screen to get a reasonable apparition of their own. And it works... soon, the hotel is booked solid, the diner is doing well, and the Brockmans might be able to survive after all. Miriam feels somewhat guilty when she meets a boy her age, Anton, whose mother has brought him some distance to perhaps be cured. Anton is fairly comfortable with his disability, and doubts that the apparition will have any effect, but Miriam is bothered by the fact that many people do have faith in the fake image. There is also an incident where they hotel sign that Miriam has just repainted has a slur against Jews painted on it. Will Miriam and Kate come clean, and if they do, will the motel and diner survive?
Strengths: Summer vacation, kids working, a new residence that isn't haunted-- I love all of these things! The best part is that although Miriam isn't the biggest fan of moving and leaving her friends, she doesn't complain. She rolls up her sleeves and helps out with making beds, cleaning, and doing things to help her family and not add to her parents' burden. I also liked the bits of Jewish culture, including Uncle Mordy, who keeps kosher and won't eat in the diner, and also won't pursue a relationship with Maria because she is Catholic. The fact that the girls manufactured the picture of the Virgin Mary and let the ruse go on longer than it should have was interesting; on the one hand, it benefits their families and doesn't really hurt anyone, but on the other, it's lying. Since I file all religions under fiction, I was okay with this-- the girls have just added one more fictional story to a canon of fictional stories.
Weaknesses: This isn't currently available from Follett, which is disappointing! Also, I would have like the sign damage to have been followed up more completely.
What I really think: There have been a number of books with families running motels and hotels recently, including Swinarski's What Happens Next, Hurwitz's Hello from Renn Lake, Grabenstein's Welcome to Wonderland series, and I will buy this if I can get a copy.
Profile Image for M. Wolkenstein.
Author 1 book67 followers
March 1, 2021
This book pulls you in with incredibly likable, quirky characters, a captivating conceit, and graceful storytelling that blends the real world we all know with a kind of elements of subtle fantasy -- where tolerance and mutual respect are abundant, and where a community comes together to show and share love. It's not that those places don't exist -- they do! But in today's world, it feels like a dream. No Vacancy reminds us that it's not a dream - but people have to make it happen. It shows us how to get there. Loved it.
Profile Image for Sandy.
2,526 reviews59 followers
April 21, 2021
This book had a lot of themes going through it but it worked. Miriam, an 11-year-old girl is the protagonist in the story as her family moves into a rundown motel, in the hopes of creating a new future for themselves and the business. They had only planned this to be a short-term plan, hoping to save some money and then move on. Moving into a small community was different than New York City and the longer I read, the more I realized what this family was hiding internally.

As the family moves into The Jewel Motor Inn, the two children live in one of the rooms and the parents’ take-up residence in an adjoining room. As an 11-year-old, I thought that would be fun but I could understand the novelty wearing off. Maria, continues to work at the Inn, taking care of the housekeeping issues and helping the family become familiar with the motel. I loved how she helped Miriam learn Spanish and I felt that Maria was a very kind and tolerant individual. As her parents start the clean-up process, Miriam pitches in. On an errand to the diner next door, she meets Kate. Kate’s grandmother owns the diner and eventually, Miriam ends up helping out at the diner making pies.

Now that Miriam has met a friend, the two girls start hanging out together. While talking about their small town, they come up with a plan that they think will benefit everyone in it. Now, if only they don’t get caught creating their plan! An innocent plan which when you think about it, was harmless. I thought the girls were rather clever. As guests arrived to the hotel, Miriam meets Anton. This child was a gem! Anton arrived with his mother and his wheelchair. Miriam saw the wheelchair. I really think she saw the wheelchair before she saw Anton until Anton met her in the swimming pool. After that, Miriam changed how she looked at him. Anton was not the only person who tried to help Miriam with her fear of water, Uncle Mordy tried his hand at that, too. Uncle Mordy arrived to help out the family so he decided to help Miriam. Slowly, he introduced her the water, letting the water touch her upper thighs, it was a start.

The girls felt guilty for what they did for the town but they didn’t want to admit to anyone what they did. Just as the family is enjoying their new home, they discover something painful and disturbing at the motel. This event has a snowball effect on the community which all began because of emotions and the lack of accountability. I cringed to see this happened to them and I had to hope that somehow, they found find strength to fight it.

A middle school read that packs religion, faith, friendship, disabilities, and family all in one book. I found it to be a fast read and I really enjoyed it. 4.5 stars

" They stand with their arms around each other. The man points and traces somthing in the air. The woman nods and smiles and I see tears rolls down her cheeks. "
"Is what we did good or bad? Yes, we fooled people, but if it makes them happy and gives them hope and saves the motel and the diner, is that so bad?"
Profile Image for Rajiv.
959 reviews64 followers
April 12, 2020


A BIG Thank You to Netgalley and Groundwood Books for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy of “No Vacancy” for my review.

What I really liked about this story was how positive the characters were. I enjoyed reading about most of them, whether it be Maria, Father Donovan, Mrs. Whitley or Anton. Most of the characters are written very well. I also liked Miriam as the main character. She has many questions about life and notices that nothing is simple. But, she tries to make the best of the situation and help people when needed. I also liked Anton’s character and thought it was good talk about a strong character in a wheel-chair. Moreover, the story also sends out a positive message about how we are all one, irrespective of our cultures and religions. It is a very important message these days when there is so much racism and hatred in the world. On a side note, I also enjoyed the Spanish phases Maria teaches Miriam.

However, I felt like the author could have paced the novel better. The book picks up initially when they move in and get adjusted to the motel. It maintains the same momentum till they find the cut-out of Virgin Mary. But then it feels like nothing much happens, and the book takes a different turn to look at various religions. The book then suddenly picks up towards the end with what happens to Sammy. While I understand what the author was trying to achieve, I thought they could have paced it better. I also felt the author left some of the plots open ended. For instance, we never find out who painted the message in the motel sign.

Apart from that I enjoyed reading this story. I think the author has done a very nice job for a debut novel and hope to see more releases in the future.
Profile Image for Joan.
1,995 reviews
November 11, 2021
Miriam isn’t happy about spending summer vacation working rather than spending it hanging out with her best friends in New York City but tries to be a good sport. Her father has lost his job and buys a hotel in a small village in NY state. Miriam knows they need to make a success of this and realizes how many people in the village are counting on their success. Her main job is to keep an eye on her toddler brother Sammy and pitch in as needed fixing up the decrepit hotel. She makes friends with Kate next door and the two cook up an idiotic idea that brings religious tourists to town. The idea is a success but Miriam is worried they have done wrong. Her mother is hiding some of her own history from Miriam who can’t understand why her mom is hostile to Catholics like their wonderful worker, Maria. Miriam is terrified of the water but her uncle is determined to teach her to swim. Will Miriam be able to let go of her fear when her brother needs her the most?
This was a quick good read. Subtle it isn’t. It is good to see Miriam’s mom recognize that she has become something she doesn’t like but I’m not sure it would happen so easily. I do like the character of Anton who is a strong character who is satisfied with his life unlike his mom. Miriam is a sweet girl and really tries to hide her resentment of being away from her friends and previous life. More of a 3.5 but rounding up. Recommended for 5/6 graders who are worried about future changes in their family.
Profile Image for Morgan Rondinelli.
Author 1 book7 followers
June 13, 2021
Mazel tov. Wow. So good.

First, I can’t think of the last time I read a book from a modern, young, Jewish perspective. I’m not sure I ever have?? And I so appreciate that.

Second, I am in an interfaith relationship. I’m Jewish. He’s Christian. It is amazing and weird in all the best ways.
When I’ve gone to church with him, I stay very close to him or often hover in the back. It’s been hard to explain why.

When main character, Miriam, described what it’s like to be surrounded by Christians and crosses and worrying if people know you’re different, I stopped in my tracks.

It perfectly described what I’ve felt. So I sent it to him, to share some of my inner experience.

People have always been very welcoming of me when I go to church with my partner, and at the same time, I still feel weird and guilty and scared.

All this to say: this was a great book. I feel seen. REPRESENTATION MATTERS.
Also, love one another

Thank you, Tziporah
Profile Image for Lori.
1,695 reviews74 followers
June 24, 2020
A fun read that I really enjoyed. I loved exploring Miriam's world and didn't want to leave.
I like this new to me author's writing style and I thought she has done a fabulous job with certain subjects.
I certainly can relate to Miriam by moving to a small town. I moved from Ohio to Kentucky in 1982 but unlike Miriam I had trouble establishing friendships. I'm not good with making friends but eventually as I got older I did learn.
I love the theme of family, friends and learning to get along with others and there's nothing like a small town feel.
A great story that I highly recommend!
My thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this book. All opinions are my own!
Profile Image for Cara (Wilde Book Garden).
1,038 reviews57 followers
September 7, 2022
This was great! I really liked the friendship between Miriam and Kate, and I loved Kate's grandparents. I thought the themes of religion and acceptance were done really well. For a while I was thinking those weren't handled quite as thoroughly as I expected / wanted, but now I actually think the amount of depth we got fit the story length and the fact that some of these things are things Miriam is just beginning to think about.

I can see some readers feeling that the way some events played out was too convenient, but overall that didn't bother me. And the ending did make me cry - surprise, surprise!

CW: Antisemitism, hate crimes, religious intolerance, hospitalization, near-drowning
Profile Image for Leanne C.
101 reviews
February 13, 2021
This was for me the right book at the right time. At a time when folks are feeling isolated and disconnected it was great to read a story about building relationships, connections and community. This is also a great book to facilitate discussions with students on religious diversity and inclusion. I loved Miriam's handling of the many challenges she and her family faced with the move and running of an old motel and how she handles her mistakes.
Profile Image for Karen.
535 reviews
October 14, 2021
Beautiful children's story about new beginnings, being yourself, and the strength of community.
Profile Image for Roz.
343 reviews8 followers
August 13, 2020
This was a wonderful story that explores moving to a new place and all the unexpected situations that can put you in. After Miriam's father loses his job, her family buys and moves into an old, run-down motor hotel in upstate New York. The motel requires a lot more work than expected and they are getting far fewer guests than they need to stay afloat. But the scheme Miriam and her new friend Kate come up with to bring tourists to their town brings up old, bitter memories for Miriam's mother and could potentially leave the Brockman family in a worse position than before.

I loved this somewhat bittersweet tale of new beginnings, age-old worries, and the strength that a loving community can provide. I loved that despite the fact that the only Jewish characters in the book were the Brockmans, we still see a diversity of Jewish practice and experience. I loved that this addresses the ever-growing problem of antisemitism in our country but ultimately ends on a hopeful note. I loved how realistic and Miriam and Kate were - from their quick friendship to their somewhat naive solution to the Brockman's lack of guests. I loved the grape pies? Which sound both bizarre and delicious? I just loved this book. I definitely recommend it and think it'd be a great addition to any library.
Profile Image for Tzipora.
207 reviews161 followers
September 5, 2020
3.5 stars.

Eleven year old Miriam and her family have just moved from New York City to upstate New York to manage the rundown Jewel Motor Inn. After losing his job, her father could no longer afford the expenses of city living and bought the hotel with the intent to run it and save up some money for the family. Unfortunately, things are rougher going than anticipated and stresses run high. Miriam who is Jewish befriends Catholic Kate whose grandmother runs the restaurant next door to the motel, and together they concoct a plan to drum up business and turn things around financially for both their families. But will it work? And what happens when an anti-semitic incidence occurs at the motel?

I really wanted to love this book a bit more than I did. I am absolutely here for books with Jewish characters, especially since they’re so lacking in Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction. I personally can remember trying to find stories in the library about kids who were Jewish like me and remember how rare and special that was. I also really love that this book deals with religion in a broader and more ecumenical, complex way. I would’ve been especially drawn to this book as a kid because I grew up in Catholic neighborhood and was always curious to know a bit more about Catholics.

That’s also maybe one of my slight issues with the book though. I fully admit this could partially be my own bias but it felt as if the book was written for non-Jewish kids and Jewish aspects were explained in more depth than Catholic ones. I sort of understand that, even as a Jew, since I always knew much more about Christianity just by virtue of living in this country where Christianity is so much a part of the culture, even secularly, and often had to put more effort into explaining Jewish things than my friends who weren’t Jewish ever had to do in explaining their various Christian observances. Still, I guess I wish more books were written for Jewish kids. Though I’m sure many would be happy just to see themselves in this book. And I really did like the way that the book explained the variations in Jewish observances though this felt a little off balance or verging into “over explanation” because basic Catholic observance was never explained with near as much nuance. But again, I may be biased and I realize most take their Christianity kind of for granted and there maybe isn’t as much need to explain this whereas Jews are often assumed to be a monolith. And I suppose if you want your books to have the widest possible readership, perhaps this is the way to go. I couldn’t help but wonder though, given that the author and main character are Jewish, if there may have been a slightly different approach to take here that would’ve felt more natural to Jewish readers without alienating or confusing young readers who aren’t Jewish.

I really liked Miriam as a character. She’s given so much nuance and the concerns she has and desire to help her family feels very true to life and real. I loved the way the book made her so brave and smart in some ways yet she also had such a fear of water and swimming. I also adored how open minded she was- learning Spanish from Maria, the motel housekeeper, struggling to understand religious divisions and questioning why her mother is so uncomfortable with Christianity.

The antisemetic incidence was also well done and incredibly timely and I like that it wasn’t overdone yet the trauma is clearly explored as well as how much Miriam struggles to understand why someone would do such a thing. Miriam’s response felt very true and familiar to me and reminded me of my own early introductions to antisemeticism.

I don’t want to understate that there’s so much to like about this book and it has such a unique and important story to tell.

Unfortunately, I found the ending a bit overdramatic but more than that, I think it was all wrapped up too soon. There’s a sudden time hop between the second to last and final chapter that confused me as an adult reader- I had to go back and reread things and can only assume it will confuse other readers as well, especially since there are no other significant time jumps in the rest of the book and this was so abrupt and at such a dramatic point in the book. I also think we needed more than that final chapter to wrap the book up. Basically we reach the climax of the story or perhaps a secondary climax that ends up overshadowing what I suspect the author intended to be the climax which occurs more towards the middle. The event sort of threw the book for an unnecessary loop and was just overwritten as it and then some of what’s squished into the last chapter try to wrap too many different things up too neatly. I would’ve rated the book so differently until those last two chapters when things really took a turn. It seemed like the author wasn’t sure how best to fully wrap up the intended message and climax of the story so she wrote in this dramatic scene that in addition to being simply too much, blurred the whole point of the story for me.

And there’s a minor quibble or two towards two Jewish related things that made me pause and I think relate very much to the over-explaining that happens with Judaism in the book. Or felt especially jarring because of that. One relates to electric Shabbat candles and that they get lit by a priest though Miriam and her mother then come over and say the blessing over them. That seemed... weird. I’m not sure why they wouldn’t have lit them as I certainly would have. And shortly before that it’s mentioned that a pie is cooked in the motel oven by the Catholic restaurant owner so Miriam’s uncle can eat it. But... I doubt someone who keeps kosher would eat a pie prepared and cooked by someone who isn’t Jewish and there’s more to that than just the oven. And these may be nit picky things to point out (though I know what kind of child I was and am certain I would’ve been even more inflexible about these, especially the pie thing, as a 10 or 11 year old reading the book!) and I really think the bigger issue there is the over-explaining of Jewish practices. Neither of these things needed to be mentioned at all but in attempting to explain so much, inevitably it made me, as a Jewish reader, read it more critically. And are two prime spots where the explaining so much only takes away from the story.

I think there’s a great story here but one that needs more work. I think certain Jewish aspects could’ve been explained more naturally or not at all for the sake of the story but most importantly is that ending and how there on one hand needs to be more there but maybe also less trying to wrap every little thing up. It was so rushed while simultaneously trying to solve everything. It really threw me and hampered my overall enjoyment of the story. Until the last two chapters o really adored this little book. And I so want publishers to publish more Jewish stories for kids and teens!

Also, massive props to the author for this quote and the very wise priest who says this. This is the real message of the story too and exactly why I still want to champion this novel-
“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. Be proud of who you are, Miriam, and don’t let any ignoramuses with a paintbrush make you feel otherwise.”
Profile Image for Melissa.
154 reviews1 follower
January 13, 2022
I wasn't a big fan of this book. I felt that for it being a First Of Reading book, there was too much of a religion focus. Most of our school population isn't either of those two religions so for that reason I'm giving it a 2.5 star. There also wasn't much action it excitement in the book
Profile Image for Erica.
1,050 reviews25 followers
August 30, 2021
If you compare this to Front Desk, because in both books a down-on-their-luck family tries to operate a motel - and both have out-of-the-blue disasters and hateful people to overcome, you will notice that it's shorter, the main character has less capacity to think & act independently, exhibits more weaknesses of morality, and is more self-centered - and yet is still able to have a positive effect on her family & community, makes authentic connections with others, and gets to celebrate wonderful successes in the end.

While in Front Desk, the main character is working hard from the first page to the last to do right by her family, in this book, Miriam is asked to do very little, and avoids responding whenever possible.

In the big act of assertion that drives the bulk of the economic recovery, the moment when a police officer takes their bait - neither Jewish Miriam nor Catholic Kate actually sets much bait, so it was as if their one simple act - which Kate does without consulting Miriam - wasn't actually that big of a deal.

However, like Mia in Front Desk, Miriam is great at guessing what downtrodden people might be feeling - and then it is confirmed when they are more friendly & open with her than with others. Her friend Kate (also like Mia) is great at assuming everyone is good just the way they are - so they make good friends and are able to foil the one negative character in the story; Miriam's mother, whose negativity is explained at the end of the story , who is crabby & fearful & suspicious of people.

The last few chapters offer hugely dramatic acts - that together serve as a focal point around which the community becomes united. Although Miriam's compassion for others laid the groundwork for that coming-together, it somehow still felt like she was more of the recipient than the protagonist.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Megan.
267 reviews18 followers
May 6, 2020
No Vacancy follows Miriam, whose family has moved from Manhattan to a small town to manage a run-down hotel. This book is on the younger side of middle grade, and centers on a primary theme of inclusion. Miriam's family is Jewish and throughout the book, we are introduced to a variety of characters from diverse backgrounds and identities - Catholic/Christian, kids with disabilities, families struggling with poverty, and Spanish-speaking. She models what it looks like to learn about each of her new friends and neighbors through curiosity and individual relationships, rather than assumptions based on group identity or affiliation.

Miriam's family are conservative Jews (her uncle is closer to orthodox), celebrating Shabbat each week and eating kosher (no bacon, but they do make an exception for cheeseburgers!). This is very close to the way that I was raised, and the traditions and practices, as well as anxieties around what other people think of their religious practices was deftly told and instantly recognizable. Miriam's natural curiosity only increases when her plan to make the small town and bankrupt motel more successful attracts a number of new visitors to town with strong beliefs. Overall, this was a quick read that does a good job covering the topic of inclusion from a religious perspective, and I'm always happy to see new literature with Jewish children's protagonists that doesn't take place or center around the holocaust (there is a mention of a hate crime later though, as a trigger warning).

Pick this up if you have a kid that would like to learn more about Jewish practices, what modeling inclusion looks like, and would like a quick read. Although please - have a discussion with kids about what good water safety looks like if someone is ever in need of help! Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy, all opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Sara Warner.
56 reviews13 followers
March 20, 2021
NO VACANCY (Groundwood Books, 2020), a middle grade novel by Tziporah Cohen, takes us through a budding friendship, a seemingly innocent ruse that fools a community, and an emotional journey that leads to a young girl’s realization of people’s differences and her first real connection to her Jewish identity.

Miriam’s family moves from Manhattan to a village upstate when her dad loses his job in the city. The draw to this particular boring little town? A motel for sale that Miriam’s parents decide to move into– a motel that, it turns out, gets no business at all. People don’t visit this place for anything.

Therefore, Jewish Miriam and her new Catholic friend Kate must hatch a plan to draw people, as they try to save both the motel and Kate’s family diner. They conspire to bring attention to a stain that looks like the Virgin Mary on the old dilapidated drive-in screen, a plan that ends up filling Miriam with guilt and confusion about religion’s role and the meaning of faith.

The book introduces Jewish concepts in a way that is accessible to those who are unfamiliar yet doesn’t feel explanatory for those who aren’t. And although the pace seems slow for a bit while the reader takes in Miriam’s thoughts, observations, and worries, the payoff is great as they all come together in the most satisfying way. (This reviewer may have cried a little toward the end, but by the time I closed the book had a goofily broad grin across my face.)

Kelly Yang fans will love this one too. Yang’s FRONT DESK, also about a family moving into and running a hotel, has a similar premise and dynamic, but is varied in feel and weight. NO VACANCY is a quick read even for middle graders (8 to 12) and is introspective and sweet. A lovely book for kids or families. From https://saralesleyarnold.com
Profile Image for Lisa.
2,212 reviews13 followers
February 20, 2021
11yo Miriam has recently moved from New York City to Upstate New York where her parents have purchased a motel. Leaving her 2 best friends behind, this promises to be the worst summer ever. The next exit off the highway is a bigger town with a college, so The Jewel Motel gets very little business, and even though the diner next door makes the best grape pies ever, if the motel doesn't have customers, the diner doesn't see much business either. Kate is the granddaughter Myrtle, the owner of Mabel's Diner, and she and Miriam make fast friends with each other. Both girls are aware that without customers, the family businesses are in real trouble, and they hatch a plan - to make a random rust pattern on the screen of the derelict drive-in seem like an image of the Virgin Mary.

I loved that "No Vacancy" had some great plot layers. Miriam's family is Jewish, the only ones in town, while Kate and her family are Catholic as is the housekeeper at the motel, Maria. There was a disabled kid - come to town with his mother who hoped the Virgin would heal him - he was so together, taught Miriam a lot about believing in yourself despite problems. I loved the bits of Jewish culture, especially Miriam's Uncle Mordy who couldn't eat at the diner because the kitchen wasn't Kosher. "No Vacancy" is a great next read for kids who liked the "Front Desk" series - I thought it was going to be similar, but it completely stands on its own merits.

Crossposted to https://kissthebookjr.blogspot.com/20...
Profile Image for Sandy Brehl.
Author 8 books131 followers
March 15, 2021
Many universally relatable situations and worries frame the central story: financial stress, family secrets, isolation/separation from friends, personal fears/phobias, and middle grade kids feeling that they lack control over their own lives (and are overworked and under appreciated).
All of the above make this a story for all kids and ideal for whole class read-aloud and discussion.
I say that because the central story involves a focus on religious identity and practice, anti-semitism, personal and cultural stereotyping and incorrect presumptions, and recognizing what community rally means. If the multiple medals awards to NO VACANCY don't convince you this is a essential story for all, perhaps those universal facts will.
The author did an outstanding job in writing a cohesive story with characters we care about, worries and decisions that feel like ones we might make, and engage us in the perspectives of a variety of individuals whose "othering" occurs all too often. This is powerhouse of a contemporary story that achieves what its concluding chapters do (no spoiler details): defines COMMUNITY as those who care, who show that they care, and who connect when that support is needed most.
Along the way readers from all points of view will learn a great deal about patterns and practices within jewish identity and experiences.
BTW, I read this on 3.14, National Pi/PIE Day, and you should know this: There IS such a thing as Concord Grape Pie, and recipes can be found online.
Profile Image for Lghiggins.
772 reviews9 followers
April 14, 2021
Life is not always easy as Miriam, an eleven year old, discovers. As her family faces financial distress, she is uprooted and transplanted to a motel in upstate New York. She leaves behind her close friends and spends her summer days helping her family revive the failing motel. Success for the motel would also mean better times for the Whitleys, a generous and kindly couple next door whose granddaughter Kate becomes Miriam’s best friend. When Miriam’s Uncle Mordy suggests it might take a miracle to keep the businesses afloat, Kate and Miriam decide to provide one!

As she is dealing with challenges at the motel, Miriam is trying to understand what it means to be Jewish and why she is different from others in her new community. She also wrestles with a fear of swimming.

Tziporah Cohen’s No Vacancy is a gentle, but thoughtful look at religion, ethics, and community. This work of fiction is aimed at middle schoolers, but I enjoyed reading it. I like Miriam and find that her interactions with other characters as she struggles with being open about being a Jew and about her aquaphobia gives the book more depth. Uncle Mordy shares differences that exist among Jews in practicing their faith. The Catholic priest acts as a counselor without being intrusive or preachy. The interactions between Miriam and Kate demonstrate that differences in faith don’t preclude a happy and healthy friendship.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Groundwood Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Lisa Bernstein.
155 reviews2 followers
May 19, 2021
This is a very good read for upper elementary school/middle school students. It gently introduces the reader to diverse ideas about religion, diverse religious practices, and prejudices. Miriam's Jewish family becomes the new owners of a small inn in upstate New York. Miriam becomes friends with Kate and Maria and learns about different ideas about what makes a miracle. It is very challenging for some children today to understand the value of in-marriage, and even more difficult for adults to explain why they value it without sounding racist and prejudiced. The author does a great job with this. Miriam wants to know why Uncle Mordy doesn't want to marry smart, nice, hard-working, pretty Maria. He explains: "Well, I live a committed Jewish life, and it's important to me that the person I marry can share that with me. And when I have kids, I want to raise them with a commitment to a Jewish way of life. Maria is committed to Catholicism, to a Catholic way of life. ... It's not that we can't get along. We just believe in different things. And while I can be friends with someone who believes in different things than I do, it's a lot harder to be married to, and raise a family with, someone who is different in these big ways. Not everyone feels that way, and that's okay. But I do." (Pages 162-163) It's a simple explanation that is respectful of difference, and explains that some people value in-marriage and value friendship and diversity. Beautifully written.
Profile Image for Cori // ghostlightbooks.
151 reviews11 followers
August 29, 2020
Miriam and her family are now the proud owners of the Jewel Motor Inn. They're headed into the biggest transition period of Miriam's life and she's a bit worried it won't turn out how her parents envisioned. After realizing that the former owners may not have been truthful about how the motel was doing, Miriam and her newfound friend Kate hatch a plan to help save the motel and the diner next door, and possibly more.

This was a short and sweet novel about acceptance and how to overcome your fears, especially during transition periods. I thought the characters were all really well fleshed out, and the plot of the book moved quickly enough. Cohen effortlessly included many different kinds of people and issues in the book without feeling like she was just trying to 'pack it all in' if you will. In the end, I would have enjoyed this more if we had a bit more growth from Miriam's mom in terms of how she specifically treated people that were different than her (however I did understand her a lot more by the end of the book) and if some of the writing flowed a little less 'list-like'. For example, "I did this and then later in the day I did this... etc.." I am definitely interested to see what Cohen writes next because of her background and how she incorporated the subject matter in this book!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the copy of this book!
1,092 reviews3 followers
March 21, 2021
Out of a job and out of options, Miriam's parents buy an old, rundown motel five hours north of their home in New York City and move in, hoping to improve business and support their family. There's no Jewish synagogue in their new small hometown, and throughout the story we don't meet any other Jewish town residents.

The motel is next door to a diner whose owners and their granddaughter, Kate, welcome their new neighbors with open arms. Miriam's mother is standoffish, though, and we don't find out until almost the end of the book why that is.

Trying to come up with an idea of drawing tourists to town and increasing business for both the motel and diner, the two girls, without lying outright, plant the idea that a vision of the Virgin Mary has appeared on the screen of the defunct drive-in theatre. It works, but Miriam is wracked with guilt for the deception.

The town's Catholic priest, Father Donovan, is a wonderful character, as is Miriam's uncle, Mordy. The bottom line includes thoughts on community, faith, love, and looking for similarities rather than being afraid of differences.

A bad memory of Miriam's mother being bullied as a child for being Jewish, and an act of anti-Semitic vandalism at the motel keep it real. Nearly every other character is portrayed in a positive light.
Profile Image for Annamarie Carlson (she, her).
965 reviews14 followers
April 14, 2021
Buying and moving into the run-down Jewel Motor Inn in upstate New York wasn’t eleven-year-old Miriam Brockman’s dream, but at least it’s an adventure. Miriam befriends Kate, whose grandmother owns the diner next door, and finds comfort in the company of Maria, the motel’s housekeeper, and her Uncle Mordy, who comes to help out for the summer. She spends her free time helping Kate’s grandmother make her famous grape pies and begins to face her fears by taking swimming lessons in the motel’s pool.

But when it becomes clear that only a miracle is going to save the Jewel from bankruptcy, Jewish Miriam and Catholic Kate decide to create their own. Otherwise, the No Vacancy sign will come down for good, and Miriam will lose the life she’s worked so hard to build.

I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this, as it simply isn't my regular style of story. Great character development kept me hooked as well as a genuine interest in wanting their small motel to succeed. A great glimpse into being Jewish in a community that is very much not, highlighted by some strong conversations between Miriam and her uncle.
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