I received an early edition of this book from Penguin Group! Thanks, Penguin!Two sensitive, sweet, sorta-outcast star-crossed kids from the opposite sides of the tracks meet and fall in love? Have we heard this story before?
Devorah is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish 16 year old from the Hasidic community in Brooklyn. Jaxon is a dependable big brother of West Indian descent who happens to also live in Crown Heights, just on the wrong side of the street.
In Una LaMarche’s new Young Adult romance, Like No Other, we are carried into a story we’ve heard before: the chance meeting of two young people who shouldn’t have ever met or known one another, but who can’t let their feelings go and in the process change their lives forever. Hmmm, where have we seen this before?
It’s Shakespeare. It’s that Amy Irving movie. Heck, it’s Hunger Games. It’s Rainbow Rowell. It’s just like that time that I was in 8th grade at a private school but the cute 7th grader from my neighborhood asked me to go to his public school dance. What was a girl supposed to do? (I went. 2nd base).
But what makes this book different?
I am now an Hasidic Scholar.
I’m not really, but I did do a lot of googling of Yiddish words and Shabbos rules and images of Shomrim, etc so I could understand just a little bit better the world that Devorah inhabits. Devorah lives in a very strict and exclusive religious and ethnic community. Their rules and regulations preclude her from doing all kinds of things: on the very first page she refuses to even look up at the television screen in the waiting room of a hospital even though she’s bored to tears. Why? Simply because she isn’t allowed to watch it, and she always does the right thing.
Like wear thick, opaque black tights in the heat of August. Whatever.
But then she gets trapped in an elevator with a very sweet, very cute black kid who tries to make her comfortable and get them out, and she breaks a rule: she talks to him. And here we go.
The definition of a whirlwind romance
These two crazy kids are falling hard. It’s SO spot-on and reminiscent of how it feels to be young, naive, attracted to someone and COMPLETELY WITHOUT OTHER OPTIONS. I mean, do I think Jax and Dev would be great together? Sure. Do I think they are OMG SO MEANT TO BE THEY CAN NEVER BE WITH ANOTHER? No. There’s a level of puerility to this romance, their pursuit of it, and their decisions that breaks your heart. They are smitten, and that’s wonderful because they are breaking cultural barriers, etc but you also want to scream: don’t give it ALL up just yet. You barely know one another.
Rollercoaster of my heart
There are HUGE moments in this book where I wanted to weep, physically insert myself into the pages and give Devorah a hug, or scream and punch someone. Sometimes I just wanted to stand between Devorah and the authorities in her life like a bony 5’7″ barricade of righteous white-girl feminism, with a giant sign that says, “Nope. Devorah will no longer be subscribing to your oppressive, patriarchal bullshit.”
And more …
The best thing about this book for me, other than just the journey that Dev and Jax both go on together and separately, is the way LaMarche brings sensitivity to the cultures she’s writing about. Other than the unfortunate portrayal of the antagonist of the story as a pretty cliched zealot and villain, the Hasidic community and its values are never represented as wholly or intrinsically wrong or bad. Sure, Dev questions them, even bucks up against them. But she doesn’t demonize her family or her faith. Jaxon is neither a cliche nor a token character. There is honesty, empathy and community in the novel’s diversity*.
*I mean, I’m not a part of either of those communities and members of them might feel like I’m being too forgiving. So please, when you read it, let me know if I’m misguided about that.
We’re talking about a great YA romance with diverse characters who go through a real coming of age journey together in this book. It’s sweet and bittersweet. It made me swoon and made me scream. It reads like a romance and even at times like a thriller. It’s a great summer read that won’t just pass the time; it’ll leave you with a little more empathy and understanding than you started with.
Incidentally, I just read this story on NPR today about arranged marriages and orthodoxy that didn’t have quite the same implications that this novel presented, but was steeped in the same world. It was fascinating to think about Devorah’s family, her future and what could be in light of something like this.
What do you think about the hot topic issue of diversity in YA and other genres?