Looking for a book with Jewish content for the teenager in your life? Chances are most of the books you'll find are about the Holocaust. From The Diary of Anne Frank to Sarah's Key to The Book Thief there's endless titles for the teenage (and adult) to choose from. Holocaust stories, despite the horror, make gripping tales of survival. But isn't it all too much? All these Holocaust books can overwhelm a reader. Is there nothing else in Jewish history or culture worth reading about, other than the Holocaust? What about the other centuries of Jewish history, ripe for historical fiction? What about the myriad of stories about contemporary Jewish teens? Where are those books? Well, if you're like me and you've had it with Holocaust tales, here are my top ten Jewish books (in no particular order) for teens and young adults, and the young at heart.
-- Leanne Lieberman
The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham (1995)|
This is a coming-of-age story of Rachel, a girl growing up in a Hasidic town. I love a story about a girl who fights against the grain to wear a bathing suit without a cover-up and secretly reads romance novels. Readers will cheer for Rachel's resistance and independence.
Never Mind the Goldbergs by Matthue Roth (2005)|
Seventeen year-old Hava Aaronson, an Orthodox Jewish girl, goes to Hollywood for the summer to star on a fictional television show, The Goldbergs. Roth's quirky humorous tale of a girl's first experience away from her Orthodox Jewish world explores questions of faith, God and orthodoxy.
Hush by Eishet Chayil (2010)|
This is a powerful story of abuse in the Chasidic community of Borough Park. When Gittel learns of the abuse her friend suffers by members of her friend's family, she starts to questions everything she was taught to believe. There aren't a lot of books about abuse in the Jewish world and this is a powerfully haunting story.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (1970)|
No list of books for Jewish teens would be complete without this classic. I devoured all of Blume, but re-read Margaret's story with its bust-increasing chants and relationship with God multiple times. A must-read for every puberty-anxious pre-teen.
My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok (1972)|
This was my favourite book as a teenager. It's the story of a Chassidic boy who is a gifted artist and is forced to choose between religion and art. As a teen, all of my knowledge of American history came from Potok's works of fiction. This one exposed me to the plight of post World War Two Jews in the Soviet Union.
The Shepherd's Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter (2008)|
Okay so this isn't really a book about a Jewish teenager, but it does take place in Israel and as far as I'm concerned, every teen, (especially every Jewish teen) should read this book about a Palestinian shepherd girl's loss of land to an encroaching Israeli army. It's strong stuff.
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman (2012)|
This book is exactly what the title proclaims, one woman's memoir of her escape from Orthodoxy, with very scandalous details. While I always suspected a Hasidic lifestyle wasn't for me, after reading Feldman's book, I bristled with feminist rage at the imprisonment of women within the Satmar Hasidic world.