Micol Ostow, author of So Punk Rock (And Oth­er Ways to Dis­ap­point Your Moth­er)Emi­ly Gold­berg Learns to Sal­sa, and 30 Guys in 30 Days , is guest-blog­ging all week for MyJew­ish­Learn­ing and the Jew­ish Book Council.

If you had told me when I first began my career as a writer of teen fic­tion that I would in time grav­i­tate from the pop-sug­ar of ear­ly projects like 30 Guys in 30 Days  over toward books with a decid­ed­ly…Semit­ic bent, I would have laughed.

Thir­teen years of Jew­ish day school, I thought, could real­ly sap the Jew right out of a girl.

Hav­ing grad­u­at­ed from Solomon Schechter only to then will­ing­ly sub­merge myself in the equal­ly homo­ge­neous envi­ron­ment of a small, New Eng­land lib­er­al arts col­lege, it seemed to me that Judaism was a facet of myself that didn’t need explo­ration or under­stand­ing — unlike my expe­ri­ences as a Lati­na, or a fem­i­nist, or even a jour­nal­ist, being Jew­ish was noth­ing new. It sim­ply was.

But a curi­ous thing hap­pened after I’d churned out a few install­ments of light­heart­ed chick lit: when it came time to write a more per­son­al sto­ry that was root­ed in my own real­i­ty, out came Emi­ly Gold­berg Learns to Sal­sa. Emi­ly” fol­lowed a Jew­ish Puer­to Rican teen as she recon­nect­ed with her Lati­na roots over one sum­mer of bond­ing with her bor­ri­qua family.

Though I was get­ting clos­er to events of my own life, the sto­ry still took the stance that Emily’s Judaism and reli­gious beliefs were ful­ly intrin­sic to her, ful­ly inte­grat­ed. Again, it was the expe­ri­ence of oth­er that my char­ac­ter sought more proactively.

Sev­er­al years lat­er, my broth­er David approached me with the idea of co-cre­at­ing an illus­trat­ed nov­el” that fea­tured yeshi­va boys turned wan­na-be rock stars. After hear­ing his pitch, I was hooked. And this past July, So Punk Rock (and Oth­er Ways to Dis­ap­point Your Moth­er) released to a love­ly response, in par­tic­u­lar from the Jew­ish review­er set.

Punk Rock deals more direct­ly with ques­tions of reli­gious and cul­tur­al iden­ti­ty, and my pro­tag­o­nist, Ari, comes to many of the same con­clu­sions that I have about my own faith. I had no idea, sit­ting down at the com­put­er, that I had so much to say about my own spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, but Punk Rock is by far my favorite of my own creations.

The best reviews I’ve read have talked about the book tak­ing Judaism and relat­ing it to teens in a con­tem­po­rary way, as opposed to the canon of didac­ti­cism that per­me­ates clas­sic Jew­ish kid-lit. Sure, I was raised on the All of a Kind Fam­i­ly, but it’s nice for today’s read­ers to have mod­ern options. And I’m proud of myself and my broth­er for hav­ing pro­vid­ed that to teens.

Of course, we’re far from the only ones writ­ing acces­si­ble, real­is­tic fic­tion. Here are a few of my own favorites from the past few years. These are the writ­ers who influ­enced me as an author, edi­tor, teacher, and stu­dent — I’m thrilled to rec­om­mend them and excit­ed to be join­ing their ranks on the bookshelves.

Nev­er Mind The Gold­bergs, Matthue Roth

This one’s a no-brain­er. Matthue’s book was the first one I read when begin­ning to shape my nar­ra­tive for So Punk Rock. And it’s proof-pos­i­tive that authors can share a sen­si­bil­i­ty and still cre­ate very vivid and unique sto­ries. Matthue’s sto­ry fol­lows an Ortho­dox teen as she cuts a fan­tas­tic path to show biz. What I love about it most is that Hava’s reli­gious obser­vance is a done deal, and han­dled very mat­ter-of-fact­ly, but that cer­tain­ty doesn’t shield her from the moral conun­drums that evolve as her celebri­ty dreams take form.

You Are SO Not Invit­ed to My Bat Mitz­vah!, Fiona Rosenbloom

Tech­ni­cal­ly tween,” this is a sto­ry that makes no bones about its eth­nic ground­ings, and trusts its read­er­ship to be savvy enough to be able to relate to the cen­tral event regard­less of cul­tur­al back­ground or reli­gion. Bat Mitz­vahStacy’s d’var Torah takes on the con­cept of Tikkun Olam, per­haps the most acces­si­ble of the prin­ci­ples of Judaism. The book is also hilar­i­ous­ly fun­ny and rife with of-the-minute pop-cul­ture ref­er­ences. Mazel tov, Stacy!

How to Ruin a Sum­mer Vaca­tion, Simone Elkeles

Simone’s books are also put out by my most punk rock pub­lish­er, Flux, and if they aren’t the only full-on Jew­ish chick lit” books out they’re, they’re for sure some of the very best. Poor Amy is sent to stay on a moshav in Israel with her estranged father over the course of one ill-fat­ed sum­mer, despite the fact that she doesn’t even con­sid­er her­self to be Jew­ish. It’s rare to read a sto­ry set in mod­ern-day Israel that takes such a light­heart­ed, teen-friend­ly approach to the set­ting with­out white­wash­ing the scenery and the real­i­ty of life there at all.

Goy Crazy, Melis­sa Schorr

This one also falls square­ly into the com­mer­cial” camp, but I real­ly enjoy that it tack­les a seri­ous top­ic — inter-dat­ing — with a light touch. When David and I have had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to present Punk Rock to teens, dat­ing out­side of the reli­gion is one top­ic that seems to spark a lot of inter­est. Rachel does ques­tion the con­se­quences of dat­ing a non-Jew, and real­izes that there may, in fact, be rip­ple effects beyond her bubbe’s per­son­al reaction.

Head Case, Sarah Aronson

A cau­tion­ary tale that lends real-life rel­e­vance to the notion of t’shuva. I’m a suck­er for dark fic­tion, and though released in 07, this one mesh­es nice­ly with the lat­est trend toward big-time grav­i­ty in young adult fic­tion. Sarah is a for­mer Ver­mont Col­lege class­mate of mine, and I do want to also give props to an insti­tu­tion that con­cerns itself with the inter­sec­tion of read­abil­i­ty and impor­tance.” Punk Rockmight nev­er have come to be if it weren’t for the encour­age­ment and enthu­si­asm of my advisors.

Micol Ostow is a young adult writer liv­ing and work­ing in New York City. If she were any more kosher, she’d be total­ly traif. Or so they say. Vis­it Micol at http://​www​.micolostow​.com, and come back all week to see her and her broth­er David’s blogs.