Playing with Matches
By Suri Rosen
Imagine, if you will, that the hottest matchmaker in an Orthodox Jewish community in Toronto is a 16-year-old working anonymously with her clients via email.
When we first meet Raina Resnick – the first-person protagonist in Playing with Matches, Toronto writer Suri Rosen’s debut novel – she’s riding the No. 7 bus along Bathurst Street en route to the (fictional) Moriah Hebrew High School for Girls, an Orthodox school in Toronto where she’s been enrolled after being expelled from Maimonides High School for Girls in New York City for a transgression that will only become clear much later in the book.
Raina’s parents are living in Hong Kong for business reasons, so she’d been living with an aunt in New York and was summarily shuffled off to another aunt in Toronto after whatever it was she did that got her thrown out of the New York school.
The plot quickly thickens when Raina is joined in her Toronto aunt’s household by her 23-year-old sister, Leah, who is resentful and mistrustful of Raina whom she blames – again, for reasons that will only become clear later in the book – for her broken engagement.
Soon, Raina strikes up a friendship with Tamara, a young woman in her 20s whom she meets on her daily commutes on the No. 7. Hearing Tamara’s lovelorn stories about not being able to find a suitable mate, Raina decides to fix her up with Jeremy, a 30-year-old family friend she’d met at her aunt’s house. Romance blooms between Tamara and Jeremy and a wedding is quickly in the works.
When Raina set up Tamara with Jeremy, she insisted that Tamara keep the identity of her matchmaker a secret. But, as word of her success with Tamara spreads through the Orthodox community, so, too, does the demand for her services. And thus is born her online identity as “Matchmaven,” a matchmaker only accessible via email who soon has more clients than she can handle. Among those who approach Matchmaven is Leah, who, Raina knows, would be horrified to discover the identity of this modern-day-Yenta.
As this easy-to-read comic-novel unfolds, Raina has her share of successes, failures and crazy misadventures as a matchmaker. She also sees her schoolwork suffer from paying too much attention to Matchmaven’s clients (who include her school’s principal).
Although Playing with Matches is breezy and entertaining – and is suitable for teenaged readers – I was surprised that a novel specifically about religious Orthodox Jews had almost no references to religious practice or much insight into what is unique about this Orthodox community (other than the use of matchmakers to find marriage partners). I was hoping for some sort of revelation about why the life of a young person attending a religious girls’ school might be different from that of a secular teenager attending public school and didn’t find it.