Like No Other by Una LaMarche
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I kept hearing, “If you liked ELEANORE AND PARK you’ll love LIKE NO OTHER.” Well, I loved E&P and the premise behind LIKE NO OTHER immediately hooked me:
A Hasidic Jewish girl and a black boy fall in love. In Crown Heights, Brooklyn. If that doesn’t scream tension, I don’t know what does!
I should point out that I grew up on the (very very far) fringes of the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. I have close friends who live the strict Orthodox life, so I couldn’t wait to see how the author portrayed the lifestyle. I was quite pleased. Despite a few minor inconsistencies, the stringent observances were depicted with respect and taste. This is not an easy task to achieve in YA. We are talking about customs that are generally misunderstood by non-Jews and even most “mainstream” Jews. For example, boys and girls may never be in a room alone together, even by accident, and may never ever speak to each other unless under supervision . And touching the opposite sex, even for something as benign as a handshake? Forget about it! I was concerned that the author could depict these customs negatively, but on the contrary, the author explained the customs with respect. Of course the protagonist, Devorah, begins to question the stringent Hasidic rules, but even then, there is a deep admiration for her family and the traditions that she cannot easily cast aside. It would have been so simple for the author to have Devorah rebel against “the system” and denounce the rules, but this is not that kind of YA book. Kudos to the author for giving Devorah more respect for her traditions and not letting her make the easy choices.
The second side of this love story is Jax. He falls hard for Devorah and fast – a little too fast for me, perhaps—but he’s the boyfriend any teenage girl would kill for. Yes, he’s black, but that’s not the problem. The big problem is that Jax isn’t Jewish. The fact that he’s black doesn’t really matter. Devorah’s family instantly hates Jax because he’s a “goy” (a derogative Yiddish word for a non-Jew), but they barely acknowledge that he is black. This is Crown Heights! To this day, there is still a lot of racial and religious tension between Jews and Blacks in Crown Heights. I would have loved to see that played out more in the story.
Despite some minor complaints I had with this book, LIKE NO OTHER, sucked me into the story from the first page. I couldn’t put it down. It’s been a few weeks since I finished reading and I’m still thinking about Jax and Devorah. I’d love to see more YA cross-cultural books like this one that explore the balance between family, tradition, and coming of age.