Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2024) Featured Review: When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb

  • When the Angels Left the Old Country
  • by Sacha Lamb
  • Publisher: Levine Querido
  • Release Date: October 18, 2022
  • ISBN: 9781646141760

A patient angel and a mischievous demon who have been studying Talmud together for centuries in their little Russian shtetl travel to America to perform a mitzvah. They locate a young woman who left for the “golden land” to find her fortune but hasn’t been heard from since. Along the way, they encounter more humans who need help and obstacles both human and supernatural. More troubling, they find they must change their eternal ways if they are to truly make a difference.

This delightful, charming story reads with the timelessness of a classic fable, yet is steeped in period-specific detail and cultural norms that convey a strong sense of place, whether in Russia or America or travelling between. Lamb deftly explores issues of identity, duty, good and evil, theology, and the bonds of friendship and love from the perspectives of her supernatural duo, who grow closer as they learn that changing who they are doesn’t have to mean growing apart. These realizations are echoed by the human characters, especially Rose, the young queer woman they meet on their travels and who accompanies them to the end of their mission. The story is wholesome without being moralizing. Whether Uriel, the angel, and Little Ash, the demon, confront corrupt officials, sweatshop owners, other demons, or vengeful dybbuks, there is a divine sense that everything is turning out as it should be.

This will appeal to teens who like quiet novels with a lot of heart and understated humor, teens who are looking for authentic Jewish stories, and those who like a blend of fantasy, historical fiction, and magical realism. This novel is a rare perfect read-alike for Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. For more Jewish mysticism, recommend From Dust, a Flame by Rebecca Podos, or for readers looking for a more contemporary connection, recommend The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen by Isaac Blum.

-Krista Hutley

Other Nominated Titles

RainRisingbyCourtneComrie
Release Date: September 30, 2022
Release Date: January 31, 2023

The Selected Lists teams read throughout the year in search of the best titles published in their respective categories. Once a book is suggested (either internally or through the title suggestion form), it must pass through a review process to be designated an official nomination.

Each week, the teams feature a review of one of the officially nominated titles. Additional titles to receive this designation are listed as well. At year’s end, the team will curate a final list from all nominated titles and select a Top Ten.
The Best Fiction for Young Adults Committee appreciates teen feedback as members evaluate the nominated titles. Teen librarians are encouraged to share the List of Potential Nominees under consideration with their patrons and solicit feedback using the link: https://bit.ly/BFYA24TeenFB