The Papercutter

by Cindy Rizzo

A deeply polarized and ungovernable United States of America has separated into two nations—the God Fearing States (GFS) and the United Progressive Regions (UPR).

Judith Braverman, a teenager living in an Orthodox Jewish community in the GFS, is not only a talented artist accomplished in the ancient craft of papercutting, she also has the gift of seeing into peoples’ souls—and can tell instantly if someone is good or evil.

Jeffrey Schwartz has no love for religion or conformity and yearns to escape to the freedom of the UPR. When he’s accepted into an experimental pen pal program and paired with Dani Fine, an openly queer girl in the UPR, he hopes that he can finally find a way out.

As danger mounts and their alarm grows, Judith embeds a secret code in her papercuts so that she and Jeffrey can tell Dani what’s happening to Jews in the GFS without raising suspicions from the government. When the three arrange a quick, clandestine meeting, Jeffrey is finally faced with the choice to flee or to stay and resist. And Judith is reeling from a pull toward Dani that is unlike anything she has ever felt before.

Content note: the book contains one brief memory of sexual assault of a male teen by another male teen.

Book 1 of The Split Series.

Genre Young Adult
Length 212 pages
Publication Date June 17, 2021
Publisher Bella Books
ISBN 9781642472479A
Editor Katherine V. Forrest
Cover Designer Kayla Mancuso



"Have you ever wondered what life would be like if the United States split into two countries? I mean, polarization is real and getting realer all the time. Recent polls show that the only thing that Democrats and Republicans agree on is that just about the worst thing their children could do is marry someone from the other party. So yeah, The Split, as I call it, is conceivable.

This is the thought experiment behind my new book, The Papercutter, part one of a trilogy in which the former USA has split into the God Fearing States (GFS) and the United Progressive Regions (UPR). In this new world, what would be the fate of LGBTQ people, people of color, American Muslims, Evangelical Christians, and Orthodox Jews? The story is narrated by three Jewish teens, one of whom is openly queer, one deep in the closet and the third completely clueless about her romantic interests. Dani, in the UPR, is paired with Jeffrey in the GFS in an experimental, cross-national pen pal program for Jewish teens. Judith, an artist who excels in the craft of papercutting and who can see the souls of people reveal themselves as good or evil, finds herself in a country beset by growing antisemitism and violence. And if that isn't enough, her whole world is turned on its head the minute she meets Dani.

Written to appeal to both teens and adults, I hope The Papercutter will spark a lively discussion about our current conditions and the role of diverse young people in this moment."

—Cindy Rizzo


The Papercutter is exciting, unsettling and hopeful, totally absorbing and so, so smart. Cindy Rizzo weaves futuristic fantasy, romantic adventure, and Jewish religious thought into a compulsive page turner. (And if this is a Young Adult novel, then sign me up as an honorary Young Adult, because I could not put it down.) I adore—adore! —the Queer and savvy teenage protagonists Cindy creates and I confess to feeling a little angry at first that she situated these beautiful young people in such a dangerous world. However, every risk or tragedy her heroes face is totally recognizable from the America we inhabit in 2021 and from the forces that have threatened Jews in every generation. Read The Papercutter for fun, for an adrenalin rush, and for a stern warning about what lies ahead. Read it to deepen your knowledge of Jewish history and identity, and read it to make a handful of new friends whose strength, humor, and integrity will reassure you that there’s hope for the world yet.—Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum-Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) in New York City

Absolutely riveting. I could not put this book down and fell in love with its compelling characters. The Papercutter is fundamentally hopeful and brave. A story of resistance, survival, and love that will resonate for Jews, queer folks, and every person who has ever fought for what's right or struggled to figure out how.—Idit Klein President & CEO of Keshet: For LGBTQ equality in Jewish life

LezReview Books
There’s so much more here, secret codes, clandestine agencies, dangerous meetups, and mysticism. But it’s the characters that make you care and maybe at the back of your mind, grow a seed of concern if you live here in the USA. The last third of the book absolutely flew and all I could think of was, when is book 2 coming out?

Jasmine G. - The world created here was just enough of a mix of reality and futuristic dystopia with solid and endearing characters tying it all together. The world building took a little long but it’s understandable for setting up the series, but the second half of the book really picked up and gosh I'm invested in the characters and I'm looking forward to the continuation. This book will appeal to all ages, sucking you in with beautiful writing and fascinating characters.

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