I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
When I saw that this book was coming out I was SO EXCITED!! I mean, a foreword by Mayim Bialik? Stories by Laura Silverman and David Levithan? An entire book full of Jewish rep? What’s not to be excited about!
I did end up giving a higher rating than I thought I would to this book, so I’m not going to jump in right away about how this didn’t really live up to expectations. Because some stories were really good!! But that’s the thing about an anthology, it’s so hard to give a concrete review because there are so many stories of different ratings included in the complete book. My final rating was the average of my separate ratings for all the 12 stories, which means that I did end up liking more stories than I disliked.
*Here comes Chana rambling about this book
I would also like to issue a little disclaimer. I am Jewish. So for me, there may have been issues I had with a few of the stories that a non-own-voices reviewer might not have. Which I feel makes it even harder for me to review this! Because am I just being nitpicky because I wanted to read some good Jewish rep? Or is the story actually bad? Am I allowed to dislike it for rep reasons since a Jewish author did write the story?
Needless to say, I’m a little conflicted. Which leads me to why the book didn’t really live up to my expectations. I know it’s not really fair to the book, but I had very high expectations. I can count on one hand the amount of YA books that feature *good* Jewish rep, so I was really looking forward to something that I could recommend anytime someone said they were really in the mood for reading a book with Jewish rep.
There were also some stories in this book that I feel did the rep… badly? I know it’s weird to say this of a book where all the authors were own-voices, but I’ll expound more on that later when I talk about a few stories in specific. I decided that since this is a review of an anthology I’m going to talk about a few of the stories that stood out to me, either for good reasons or bad ones.
The Hold by David Levithan
There were a lot of good stories in this anthology, but this one really stood out to me. David’s chapter talks about Jewish identity, and how it’s different for each person. He speaks about what being Jewish means to him, and he talks about being gay in the Jewish community. Overall, a really powerful story and one that I enjoyed very much.
Some Days You’re the Sidekick; Some Days You’re the Superhero by Katherine Locke
Gaah, this story was just so cute!! The story is written fanfic style, with each chapter having summary and authors notes and endnotes. It was amazing. I don’t really know how to describe the story, but trust me it was adorable. Also the references to Matisyahu’s music? Peak Jewish experience.
Neilah by Hannah Moskowitz
First off, the writing in this story was fantastic. The story focuses on Tina and the first time she goes to services with her girlfriend Mira on Yom Kippur. Tina wasn’t raised religious (only her father is Jewish) and she feels very self-conscious going to services for the first time. She is also battling an eating disorder that she’s keeping secret from her girlfriend. This story managed to make it seem like not a lot was going on while there was still a lot going on? It worked really well for the story. Also, I got to read a YA book that mentioned a story I grew up hearing?? That’s pretty great rep. (The story is of Reb Zusha M’anipoly if anyone wants to look it up.)
Good Shabbos by Goldy Moldavsky
This was probably my least favorite story in the entire book. One thing I really didn’t like was how there were footnotes explaining every little thing. Personally, I think that the best stories are shown not told. There were other stories in this book that mentioned concepts or Hebrew words that the average reader wouldn’t understand, but it was written in a way that was implied. I don’t want to read something and have every little thing explained to me. I am Orthodox, so I did know what everything with footnotes meant, but even without looking at the footnotes this story was just badly written.
Me while reading this story
Find the River by Matthue Roth
Well. This one was just. Weird, I guess. The story follows a non-religious boy in public school who joins a Jewish youth group. The problems I had with this story were numerous, so I guess I’ll just break it down for you.
Many times throughout the story it mentions that Orthodox Jews are cultish and brainwash the masses. This is a harmful stereotype that is really not okay. Throughout the story, it’s as if the MC can’t make up his mind whether or not to hate the religious kids or not.
“They brainwashed you don’t you realize? Can’t you even see it?”
“Others, I sensed, were just there to meet girls-but we all watched the propaganda films…”
“A bunch of kids I didn’t know walked up to us and started talking to him….the guys with their heads covered, the girls in skirts…’What gives, Challah? Are these your rabbis?’”
At the end of the story, the MC seems to find “spiritual awakening”, I guess? And then decides he’s better than all the other less religious kids. All in all, it was a pretty weird story filled with harmful stereotypes and bad rep.
Our Jewish boi Ben Feldman with a gif of wisdom
These are the two that I had the most issues with. I think that it’s important for me to mention these issues because I have been seeing reviews where non-Jewish people mention that they read this anthology and for them, it all seems great because the authors are all Jewish so the rep must be A+. There also were a few stories that had little things that didn’t really sit well with me (Jewbacca, Aftershocks) but don’t really merit any special passionate rant.
I’m also going to add some special mentions here for some really great stories that I didn’t want to expound upon in detail because I didn’t want to leave a super long review. (It seems like it’s too late for that, but oh well.) He Who Revives the Dead and Ajshara both talk about the Jewish experience of Birthright and Ajshara. They both describe Israel really well, and the mechanics of traveling Jewish teens. I swear I freaked out when Ajshara mentioned Sabich. It’s delicious and everyone should try it. Also, Good Shabbos should take notes on how well He Who Revives the Dead weaves in common Hebrew words and phrases. You don’t need footnotes to write about a culture that the general populace won’t understand.
Overall, I did enjoy more stories than I didn’t enjoy. So I do recommend reading this book, but do be sure to take some of the stories with a grain of salt, since not all the stories are the best reflection of the Jewish experience.
Do you think an Own Voices author can write a story that badly represents their culture? Do you have a favorite Jewish character? How do you tend to feel about anthologies?