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.
Portnoy's Complaint by Phillip Roth (1969)|
My father gave this to me when I was a teenager and I was confused, outraged and delighted. The novel takes place on a psychoanalyst's couch and delves deep into the mother-son relationship of one Alexander Portnoy. Possibly the funniest Jewish novel I've read, it was to my teenage sensibilities, also the most disgusting. I distinctly remember a scene where Portnoy masturbates in his sister's bra. Teenagers might want to start their reading of Roth with Goodbye, Columbus.
Someone to Run With by David Grossman (2003)|
I'm a huge fan of David Grossman's books. His Yellow Wind was my first eye-opening experience into the world of Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Someone to Run With is not political, or even really Jewish, but it takes place in Israel, and it is a true page-turner. Sixteen-year-old Assaf's attempt to find the owner of a stray dog takes him into the world of street kids and criminals and into his own first love.
Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir by Shalom Auslander (2007)|
The title alone makes me titter, let alone the new cover graced with a large pink pig. Auslander writes a funny and anger-fueled memoir about his rebellion against his Orthodox Jewish childhood. He labels the fear he felt of God, "theological abuse." He also coins the oh-so delightful phrases "spiritually groped," "religiously fingered" and "touched inappropriately by an angel."
|There are so many other books I wanted to include. For more books on the contemporary Jews read deeply into Allegra Goodman, Dara Horn, Naomi Ragen, Tova Mirvis, Nathan Englander and AB Yehoshua. I'm sure there's plenty I've forgotten|
Leanne Lieberman is the author of three books for young adults. She lives in Kingston, Ontario, with her husband and two sons. For more information, visit www.leannelieberman.com.
Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust (2013)
Lauren Yanofsky doesn't want to be Jewish anymore. Her father, a noted Holocaust historian, keeps giving her Holocaust memoirs to read, and her mother doesn't understand why Lauren hates the idea of Jewish youth camps and family vacations to Holocaust memorials. But when Lauren sees some of her friends--including Jesse, a cute boy she likes--playing Nazi war games, she is faced with a terrible choice: betray her friends or betray her heritage.
"Lieberman, known for her edgy, provocative Jewish-themed novels,...creates another strong female protagonist, whose characterization of Judaism as a religion 'about loss, grief and persecution' will raise eyebrows with both Jewish and non-Jewish readers." (Kirkus Reviews)
Ellie Gold is an orthodox Jewish teenager living in Toronto in the late eighties. Ellie has no doubts about her strict religious upbringing until she falls in love with another girl at her grandmother's cottage. Aware that homosexuality clashes with Jewish observance, Ellie feels forced to either alter her sexuality or leave her community. Meanwhile, Ellie's mother, Chana, becomes convinced she has a messianic role to play, and her sister, Neshama, chafes against the restrictions of her faith. Ellie is afraid there is no way to be both gay and Jewish, but her mother and sister offer alternative concepts of God that help Ellie find a place for herself as a queer Jew.
The Book of Trees (2010)|
When Mia, a Jewish teenager from Ontario, goes to Israel to spend the summer studying at a yeshiva, or seminary, she wants to connect with the land and deepen her understanding of Judaism. However, Mia's summer plans go astray when she falls in love with a non-Jewish tourist, Andrew. Through him, Mia learns about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and starts to questions her Zionist aspirations. In particular, Mia is disturbed by the Palestinian's loss of their olive trees, and the state of Israel's planting of pine trees, symbolizing the setting down of new roots. After narrowly escaping a bus bombing, Mia decides that being a peace activist is more important than being religious.
"A complex and thought-provoking book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, through the fresh eyes of a Canadian teenager. Mia is a fascinating character, and an open book....More than just a book about a conflicted teenager, there are deep and important themes about social justice and equal treatment of all peoples..." (Canadian Children's Book News)