When parental expectations clash with a teenager’s legitimate need for independence, family relationships can fracture. In Rachel Lynn Solomon’s We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This, Quinn Berkowitz, a sensitive eighteen-year-old with several mental health challenges, feels torn apart by conflicting emotions. For years her parents have assumed that, like her older sister Asher, Quinn will join their family wedding planning business, but she has gradually become aware that this role will not make her happy. At the same time, her attraction to Tarek Mansour, a childhood friend, has made the situation even more confusing, causing her to question what she expects from a romantic relationship. Solomon follows Quinn’s conflicted reactions to friends and family with compassion and authenticity in this engaging novel for young adults.
The motto of the Berkowitz family business, meant to assure customers of their dedication to quality without compromise, is “Nothing less than our best.” To Quinn, however, the slogan has become a disturbing piece of evidence of her family’s malfunction. Several years earlier, her parents temporarily separated but never explained to her the reason for their decision. Her older sister’s enthusiasm for their parents’ career path leaves Quinn feeling even more like an outsider, resentful of a lack of consideration for her personal goals and needs. Then there is Tarek. His parents’ catering company has always worked closely with the Berkowitz group, and Tarek is an aspiring chef. Once Quinn realizes that her feelings for him have evolved from friendship to something resembling love, she becomes afraid. Miscommunication and confusion intervene, as Quinn’s anxiety and depression influence her interpretation of Tarek’s motives. At the same time, he unwittingly sends mixed messages that might cause anyone to question her own responses. Solomon conveys the typical anguish of first love but personalizes the experience for the reader with vivid and believable characters.
Questions about Jewish identity add an interesting thread to the novel. In the Berkowitz’s Seattle community, Jews are a minority but are a significant part of social and business circles. Like many young Jewish adults, Quinn is unsure of what exactly her ethnic and religious background means to her personally. Solomon intersperses Quinn’s reflections throughout the narrative, as different events in her life provoke new thoughts. A brief affiliation with a Jewish youth group had been motivated by a vague search for Jewish connections, while her sister’s marriage to Gabe, from a more observant Jewish family, increases her feelings of insecurity. Many readers will relate to Quinn’s reasoning; if her sister and brother-in-law’s Judaism “is so clearly on display,” perhaps her own more ambivalent identity is “not quite Jewish enough.” Tarek’s similar questions about his own religion create an additional connection between them.
Solomon’s novel benefits from overlapping perspectives on Quinn’s dilemma, including romance, mental health issues, and family conflicts with their impact on personal identity. Quinn plays the harp at weddings. When an older harp player becomes Quinn’s mentor, she encourages the younger musician to choose among different models: “Which one speaks to you?” This advice could be the metaphor at the core of Quinn’s engaging story, from beginning to end.
Emily Schneider writes about literature, feminism, and culture for Tablet, The Forward, The Horn Book, and other publications, and writes about children’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures.