Story of twins a worthwhile read for the younger set

“It’s Hot and Cold in Miami” probably meets the test of success for a good book.

Aimed at preteens, Nicole Rubel’s novel is a mixing bowl of emotions: angst and envy, satisfaction and triumph. Because of this range, the story is bound to hit home in one way or another with its audience.

Though promoted as a humorous book, I found it mostly sad. Which means, if nothing else, that it’s engaging.

Rachel and Rebecca are identical twins, but they are different in just about every way. Rebecca gets straight-A’s in school, is more slender, and seems to be Mom and Dad’s favorite.

Dad tries to be encouraging. At the dinner table, after Rebecca has brought home a perfect math quiz and Rachel has slipped her dad a D-grade social studies report for him to sign, he says, “Rachel, I truly believe you are almost as smart as your sister. You just need to work harder.”

Thanks, Dad.

Mom, meanwhile, is a knockout. She dresses to a T and is a magnet for men. Unfortunately, she tends to get depressed when Dad’s away on business trips, which is often since he’s a traveling salesman.

Then there’s Grandma and Grandpa. They’re from the Old Country, and every Sunday the family endures a visit to their tiny, sweltering apartment for non-conversation and a slice of dry honey cake.

Mom’s mother, Granny Fanny, is reserved for Sunday afternoon dinners. She’s much more fun to be with, makes melt-in-your mouth matzah balls and stuffs the girls with sweets such as rugelach.

But Mom thinks Granny is too fat, and disapproves of Rachel’s hearty appetite.

The girls’ Jewishness is not a particular source of joy. Because theirs is one of only a few Jewish families in the neighborhood, the girls are repeatedly harassed by the anti-Semitic teenager down the street.

They attend Sunday school, but typically arrive late because Mom’s always behind schedule.

With those and other sundry sources of unhappiness, no wonder Rachel feels down now and then.

But there are light moments too, and as the book ends, Rachel has finally found a way to boost her self-esteem.

Rubel’s pen and ink sketches are modest but detailed. Her illustrations are sometimes comical as she tosses in the totally unexpected: the touristy “Florida” clock with the stuffed alligator on the end table in Grandma and Grandpa’s living room, a menorah with Santa Claus candleholders.

“Hot and Cold” is a strange brew, all right. But not every family is cookie-cutter perfect, and I suppose the point of the book is that we can and must deal with our plight and find some things about which to be happy.

“It’s Hot and Cold in Miami” by Nicole Rubel (202 pages, Farar, Straus & Giroux, $17).

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.