Happy Mid-Hanukkah! First off, I’d like to clarify that the title of this post is a tad misleading. The 8 books below are not really about Hanukkah explicitly. They are simply a wide-swath selection of books that represent the YA Jewish experience, or might be of interest to Jewish teens for various reasons. You could potentially give them as gifts for Hanukkah! But that’s about where the association ends. Whitney has been doing a great series of posts about YA books and religion, so consider this one a piggyback.
As a Jewish person, my ears always prick up when the books I’m reading have something to do with the faith, history, or modern experience of Jews. Especially because even though I wasn’t the only Jewish kid in my classes at school, I was usually one of very few — maybe 2 or 3 of us. As a result, it will always be somewhat of a novelty for me to have Judaism in common with others. I find that YA books sometimes contain just a passing mention of the fact that the protagonist is Jewish, as in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and that fact doesn’t have a lot of bearing on the story. Even when this happens, I still take note of it. Sometimes Judaism is the focal point of the whole book. Either way, I enjoy having that identifiable dimension. Wanting to see yourself reflected in literature, or finding commonalities with the characters we read about, remains important at any age whether you’re 15 or 50. Conversely, some books featuring Jewish teens portray experiences that are very foreign to a Jew such as myself. For instance, growing up Orthodox is almost totally unfamiliar to me, but within these portrayals there is still that kernel of sameness that I find fascinating. So, without further ado, here are some good books to consider for yourself, or for that Jewish teen in your life. Book summaries provided by their respective publishers.