Rec­om­mend­ed for You

  • Review
By – August 31, 2020

Shoshana Green­berg is an out­go­ing yet book­ish teen work­ing in Once Upon, her local book­store in a small town out­side of Atlanta, and her life is not with­out prob­lems. Her aging car, which she has affec­tion­ate­ly named Bar­bra Streisand, is bare­ly run­ning and she is short on the cash need­ed to fix it. Her two moms are lov­ing and sup­port­ive, but their mar­riage is on the verge of a breakup. Things bright­en — but also become more com­pli­cat­ed — when dark and hand­some Jake Kaplan joins the staff of Once Upon. Events devel­op to the point where Shoshana remarks, If my life were a movie, this is the point where I would make a grand roman­tic gesture…But my life isn’t a movie.” Lau­ra Silverman’s new nov­el fea­tures Jew­ish pro­tag­o­nists nav­i­gat­ing the tur­moil of ado­les­cence in the style of a bright roman­tic comedy.

The book’s premise is rel­a­tive­ly reas­sur­ing for a con­tem­po­rary young adult nov­el. While Sil­ver­man does not min­i­mize Shoshana’s prob­lems, she does empha­size her character’s strengths and abil­i­ty to make sense of tough chal­lenges. Admit­ted­ly, Shoshana has many advan­tages: a car­ing fam­i­ly, empa­thet­ic friends, and an employ­er who is a mod­el of fair­ness. Yet her moth­ers’ frac­tur­ing rela­tion­ship threat­ens the sta­bil­i­ty of Shoshana’s life, and mis­steps with her peers have upset­ting — if tem­po­rary — con­se­quences. Shoshana’s emo­tion­al respons­es to these events are intense, but she also shows a mea­sure of humor and irony about them, mak­ing her char­ac­ter appeal to young adult read­ers, espe­cial­ly those for whom the idea of work­ing in a book­store is a dream come true. Sil­ver­man mix­es ref­er­ences to actu­al works of lit­er­a­ture such as Har­ry Pot­ter, with invent­ed pop­u­lar books whose titles are wit­ty ref­er­ences to con­tem­po­rary best sellers.

The author’s deci­sion to cen­ter her nov­el on young Amer­i­can Jews demands choic­es; what kind of Jews will they be? Shoshana’s com­mu­ni­ty is diverse; in fact, she makes a point of iden­ti­fy­ing many char­ac­ters’ racial or eth­nic back­grounds, and makes it clear that there are few Jew­ish res­i­dents. At times, her ref­er­ences to Jew­ish cul­ture are incon­sis­tent. While most Amer­i­can Jews eat non-kosher food, those who do would be less like­ly to use the term hashem” for God”; nor is it like­ly that the believ­ably Jew­ish cus­tomers at the local Chi­nese restau­rant on Christ­mas day would wear kip­pahs.

At the same time, the romance between Shoshana and Jake is refresh­ing. The essence of their bond is con­vinc­ing, and it is at least part­ly con­nect­ed to their Jew­ish­ness. Jake’s par­ents are estranged, and his fam­i­ly also faces finan­cial strain. His obses­sion with cook­ing match­es Shoshana’s love of read­ing. They both feel like out­siders in sev­er­al ways. But they also cel­e­brate Hanukkah, have moth­ers who some­times use Yid­dish, and are def­i­nite­ly aware of being, in Shoshana’s words, Mem­bers of the tribe.”

Shoshana sum­ma­rizes both her Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and her attrac­tion to Jake with char­ac­ter­is­tic com­e­dy: I fid­get under his gaze and pray for him to break the silence even though I’m not real­ly a Jew who prays so much as a Jew who loves a good kugel and a light­ly toast­ed sesame-seed bagel with white fish.” They are two Jew­ish kids drawn to one anoth­er and, in this charm­ing book for young adults, that is enough.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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