Leonard is 15 years old, the child of Jewish atheist intellectuals in Berkeley. He’s deeply entrenched in the 1970s, surrounded by burnt-out hippies and disco music. Then he meets Rick, a charismatic hippie in his twenties–who also happens to be a preacher for a sect of fundamentalist Jesus freaks.
In Alvin Orloff’s new novel Why Aren’t You Smiling, Leonard’s new acquaintance introduces him to a whole new world. Running away to Rick’s Oregon compound, Leonard is introduced to Jesus,pot smoking, and free love–in theory, anyway. The more that Leonard tries to blend in with the Jesus freaks, the more he just freaks out–about everyone else’s promiscuity and his own inhibitions. He doesn’t suspect that he has more in common with Rick than the preacher would ever admit to.
But it turns out Preacher Rick is hiding his own secrets–including his birth name, Irving Mandelbaum, and his childhood in the Jewish district of Los Angeles. Why Aren’t You Smiling is a wise, funny, and awkward snapshot of growing up, thinking you know everything–and then meeting someone who changes your mind about that.