An empathetic story of faith and desire.

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YELED TOV

Jaffe’s (The Genealogy of Understanding, 2014, etc.) coming-of-age novel tells the story of a Jewish adolescent attempting to square his homosexuality with the teachings of his religion.

On the cusp of his 16th birthday, Jake Stein notices a prohibition in the book of Leviticus that never caught his eye before: “ ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.’…Jake read further still: anyone who committed such abomination ‘shall be cut off from among their people.’ ” As part of a Conservative Jewish family in 1970s South Jersey, the dictates of his religion are important to Jake—and even more important to his father, Sol. At the same time, Jake has been fantasizing about some of his male teachers and engaging in sexual exploration with his best friend, Dave. Jake joins the school play in hopes of finding a distraction from this identity crisis, but it only makes things worse: The play is The Diary of Anne Frank, a story laden with heavy guilt, and he quickly becomes obsessed with the lead actor, Steve. Jake concocts daydreams around his unrequited attraction but ends up feeling as lonely as ever. He attends Princeton University after high school, still committed to trying to be a yeled tov—a good Jewish boy—but the temptations at college prove even greater than those in high school. Throughout the novel, Jaffe writes in a polished prose style that successfully captures Jake’s anxiety from his perspective: “Jake glanced quickly down at his book, but couldn’t read what now appeared to be one big blur. His stomach clutched and his breathing nearly halted. Streams of perspiration jetted out under his arms.” Along the way, he does an admirable job of locating Jake’s conflict in the particulars of Judaism and Jewish culture while also presenting a story that will feel relatable to a wide audience. Jake’s road to self-acceptance is a long one, and it will perhaps frustrate some readers. But the details of his experience are so particular and humanizing that most people will stick right with him to the end.

An empathetic story of faith and desire.

Pub Date: April 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59021-671-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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