By – February 5, 2024

It’s 1970: Adam Miller is twelve and enter­ing sev­enth grade at a new school. His fam­i­ly recent­ly, and with some sud­den­ness, moved to a new part of Queens. He is prepar­ing for his bar mitz­vah with a sup­port­ive and mys­te­ri­ous new can­tor. He’s a sweet and con­fi­dent kid, but the world around him seems increas­ing­ly com­plex and confusing. 

His par­ents let him ride the sub­way to Yan­kee Sta­di­um for Bat Day with his friends. It’s a mar­velous moment of inde­pen­dence — and then his group is mugged on the return trip. Lat­er in the sum­mer, a girl holds his hand on the bus at camp, but appar­ent­ly, that isn’t enough to cement her sta­tus as his girl­friend; he has to talk to her. He takes the advice of his father, and lat­er, after anoth­er mug­ging, the advice of the police, only to learn that those author­i­ty fig­ures may not be the right peo­ple to turn to after all. He makes a new friend, or an ene­my — he’s not sure which. Adults com­pli­ment his kind­ness, intel­li­gence, and matu­ri­ty, but they also seem to speak in shad­owy half-truths. Adam begins to won­der if the Miller fam­i­ly moved not only for a big­ger house with a yard, but because of some­thing nefar­i­ous. He thinks he knows, only to real­ize he doesn’t. Still, our lik­able pro­tag­o­nist goes along, always doing his best. 

This com­ing-of-age nov­el takes us through Adam’s bar mitz­vah year. With humor and pathos, Fut­ter­man chron­i­cles the chang­ing loy­al­ties of Adam’s friend group; his awak­en­ing polit­i­cal con­scious­ness; the shift­ing racial dynam­ics of New York; fam­i­ly tragedy; and, quite charm­ing­ly, Adam’s emer­gence as a the­ater kid. It can some­times be dif­fi­cult to under­stand exact­ly what’s hap­pen­ing around Adam, but that is only because Fut­ter­man is bril­liant at depict­ing the murk­i­ness of the world of ado­les­cence. No mat­ter how old you are or where you’re from, read­ing Adam Unre­hearsed will make you feel young again, in all the best ways. 

Jessie Szalay’s writ­ing has appeared in Gulf Coast, Aspara­gus, The For­ward, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Trav­el­er, and as a notable in the Best Amer­i­can Essays of 2017. She lives in Salt Lake City where she teach­es writ­ing in a prison edu­ca­tion program.

Discussion Questions

Don Futterman’s first nov­el is an engag­ing com­ing-of-age tale about the tri­als and tribu­la­tions twelve-year-old Adam Miller faces as he pre­pares for his bar mitz­vah. Set in Flush­ing, Queens in the ear­ly 1970s, the book fol­lows Adam as he nav­i­gates a world beset by the issues of the time: ten­sion in Black-Jew­ish rela­tions fol­low­ing the 1968 New York City teach­ers strike, which has affect­ed the pro­fes­sion­al lives of Adam’s edu­ca­tor par­ents; ever-present anti­semitism; the plight of Sovi­et Jew­ry; and the rise of Kahanist Jew­ish mil­i­tants. All of this is hap­pen­ing while Adam is grap­pling with his shaky self-con­fi­dence, the shift­ing sands of boy­hood friend­ships, his rela­tion­ships with girls and fam­i­ly mem­bers, and a num­ber of moral dilem­mas. With the help of adult men­tors, he even­tu­al­ly begins to dis­cov­er his own inner gifts.

Adam Unre­hearsed is an inven­tive sto­ry filled with vivid char­ac­ters and sur­pris­ing plot twists. It’s sure to con­jure up mem­o­ries of our own jour­neys through the con­fus­ing land­scape of ado­les­cence, and remind us how friend­ships and sig­nif­i­cant adults can help shape our lives. Read­ers will find it dif­fi­cult to put this beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten book down. Rec­om­mend­ed for all ages.