Release Date: July 24, 2014
Devorah is the perfect good girl being brought up in an typically strict Hasidic family. Jaxon is book-smart African American nerd who has never been good at talking to girls. His four sisters don't count. They both live in Brooklyn, but they might as well be living in two different worlds. In Devorah's world, good Hasidic girls do not talk to non-Hasidic boys, or even Hasidic ones for that matter. Good Hasidic girls do not get stuck in elevators with boys. And they certainly don't start lying to their parents in order to see the boy from the elevator. Yet, Devorah finds herself doing all of this. Soon, she and Jax are sneaking around the city trying to see each other. It is a relationship that is doomed to be discovered. It is a relationship that could destroy everything Devorah knows.
Touted as a Romeo & Juliet story this book is the same only in the forbidden love department. No one is going to kill themselves and no one is going to kill Devorah or Jax. The love story takes place over week and months not days. Devorah loves Jax, but has no delusions that this is a forever kind of thing. Romeo & Juliet this book is not, and for that I was grateful.
Normally, this book isn't my kind of thing. Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time knows that I take issue with romance books, particularly of the young adult variety. What drew me to this book was that the story centers around the Hasidic community, a community that I admit to having a bit of a fascination with. Now, not being Jewish in any way, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of everything in the story, but I did think the book did a good job of introducing elements of Hasidic life into the story without feeling heavy-handed or didactic. Devorah herself is at the age where she is beginning to question whether the things she has been taught all her life are what she wants for her life. Does she really want to be matched up with a boy at eighteen and have babies? What about college? What if she ends up with someone like her brother-in-law? And are the people outside the community really all that bad?
I liked Devorah. She was relateable in a way that felt surprising, given that her life is so different from most of the people who would be reading this book. Jax, on the other hand, felt a bit flat to me. The problem with Jax is that he has nothing to lose in this story. He pushes Devorah to do things she can't or shouldn't, due to a desire to be with her, but nothing bad is going to happen to him if this does or doesn't work out. His parents don't care who he is dating as long as he keeps his grades up and goes to work. He won't lose his reputation by dating her. Nothing will happen if people in his community find out. Jax is just a foil to tell Devorah's story. And Devorah has everything to lose. Her family, her community, her freedom.
The antagonistic character in Devorah's brother-in-law, was a little too awful. He is shown as fiercely and angrily devout, in a way that made all the males in the story seem overly domineering and angry. Even Devorah's father and grandfather end up being portrayed this way and that bothered me as there was no effort made to try and show these people in a understanding way. If all men are like Jacob, then she really does need to worried about marrying someone like him, but they can't all be. This is painting the Hasidic community with an extremely broad brush in which the religion itself has no redeeming qualities.
**SPOILERS** In the end, everything felt a bit too tidy and unrealistic. Devorah manages to convince her family not to marry her off, to let her go to college, and breaks it off with Jax with some heartbreak but little else. One can see that Devorah is on her way out of this family and community and is just trying to hang in there another 2 years until she goes off to college. Jax, once his part in the love story is over, disappears. Nothing more than a fond memory. Here is what I wanted in the end: Devorah is kicked out of her community and goes to live with someone who used to be in the community and helps her get into a regular public school and prepare for college. She misses her family and sees them occasionally, but these visits are rare and her grandfather never comes. As much as she misses it though, she knows she is making the right decision because she really doesn't want to just get married and have babies. OR Devorah refuses all her male suitors...for two years straight. She doesn't see Jax or communicate with him, but leaves for college in the city. On her first day at the school, after her parents leave the dorm, she finds a new pair of red sneakers and a note telling her to meet him at the park. He waited.
I know that is terribly romantic, but if you are going to make me suffer through a teenage romance, let's at least go totally realistic or not at all. The in-between thing where Devorah is left on the fence about her life as Hasidic with no clear direction just felt like such a waste of such a great character.