YA – Some Kind of Hate

Littman, Sarah Darer. Some Kind of Hate. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-74681-5. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Content Warning: “The contents include white nationalist ideas based on antisemitic conspiracy theories, Islamophobia, racism, misogyny, and violence.”

Declan Taylor is at the top of his game – literally. His school baseball team just won the state tournament, and he was their star pitcher. If Declan just could figure out how to talk to his longtime crush, Megan, he would be set. When an attempt to impress Megan during an end of the school year celebration goes horribly wrong, Declan’s summer plans derail. No more baseball means no future for Declan, at least not the future he was envisioning. Drowning in self-pity while the rest of his family is working long hours, Declan spends most of his day gaming. His baseball friends, including his best friend and longtime teammate Jake, are too busy with summer league and don’t understand Declan’s situation or his anger. Plus Jake seems to be spending more time with his friends from synagogue than worrying about how Declan is doing. With their family’s finances crumbling, Declan is forced to get a summer job. Now he’s spending more time away from home and with his co-workers. Finn and Charlie introduce Declan to a better way to escape the lack of acceptance from his family and friends. It’s in the game world that Declan is able to avoid reality and find understanding: The world needs to wake up to the globalists who are tipping the scale in their favor and stealing opportunities from families like Declan’s. Though his twin sister and baseball friends question some of the things Declan has been saying, Declan’s anger surfaces and he writes them all off, opting to join his new friends in fighting back. Will Declan lose himself to his anger, or is there hope that he can crawl back and redeem himself?

THOUGHTS: Told in alternating chapters between Declan and Jake, this novel explores how, given the right conditions, one’s hate can blossom. Haunting and at times difficult to read, this story will stay with readers and belongs in every YA collection. It would pair well as a modern tie-in to Night, To Kill a Mockingbird, and other classics that deal with social issues. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen

Blum, Isaac. The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen. Philomel Books, 2022. 978-0-593-52582-1. 218 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Yehuda “Hoodie” Rosen is part of an Orthodox Jewish community that recently has relocated from Colwyn to (fictional) Tregaron, Pennsylvania. Hoodie is committed to observing the Jewish laws that govern his family’s household and their larger community, but things get complicated when he meets Anna-Marie while on a walk. Spending time with a gentile girl is strictly forbidden. However, the two discover antisemitic graffiti in a local graveyard and decide to work together to clean up the headstones. When his rabbi catches him in the act, Hoodie becomes an exile within his school and even his family. Everything is complicated by the fact that Anna-Marie’s mother is the mayor of Tregaron, and she opposes the expansion of Hoodie’s Orthodox community. Specifically, she’s fighting construction of an apartment complex spearheaded by none other than Hoodie’s father. When a series of violent hate crimes ratchets up the stakes, Hoodie finds himself questioning the rules he always has lived by. With many serious elements, Isaac Blum’s debut also is sweet and genuinely funny. Anna-Marie is a charming star-crossed romantic interest, and Hoodie’s many sisters are absolute scene-stealers. 

THOUGHTS: This timely, heartfelt debut novel is a perfect choice for fans of Jared Reck’s Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love. At only 218 pages, Hoodie Rosen will have broad appeal!

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Aviva vs. the Dybbuk

Lowe, Mari. Aviva vs. the Dybbuk. Levine Querido, 2022. 978-1-646-14125-8. $17.99. 176 p. Grades 5-8.

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk takes on an unusual theme in a not frequently used setting. Sixth grader Aviva Jacobs is an orthodox Jewish girl plagued by a dybbuk (“a ghost of a deceased person who returns to complete a certain task”). Aviva’s family unit–she and her mother–is not doing well. The reader knows that Abba has died in an unnamed accident five years prior. Since then, Aviva’s life is off kilter. Through the kindness of their close knit community, her mother manages the mikvah (“pool used for religious immersion”) and lives in the apartment above it. The reader also sees that Ema is depressed, but Aviva just views the disappearance of her vibrant, soft-spoken mother into a scared, nervous agoraphob. Aviva, too, has become an outsider from her classmates and estranged from her best friend, Kayla. Instead, her constant companion is the mischievous dybbuk who only she can see. The dybbuk soaps the floor in the mikvah, unplugs the refrigerator, rips up checks, and generally haunts Aviva. Moreover, the mikvah and the shul are under attack: A swastika is on the sidewalk outside the shul. In the midst of this disruption, Aviva and Kayla–both talented players– get into an altercation at the machanayim, “a ball game played in some Jewish schools and camps.” The consequence of their action is having to plan the annual Bas Mitzvah Bash at the arcade. The planning sessions reignite Aviva’s and Kayla’s friendship in the weeks before the event and seem to have a positive effect on Ema as well. The dybbuk, also, is in high gear with wild shenanigans that Aviva attempts to stop. As Kayla and Aviva grow closer, and the caring community rallies around Ema, anti-semitism rears its ugly head, forcing Aviva to recall her father’s death and recognize the effect of that trauma. Lowe’s fluidity with language makes this compact story a smooth read. The emotions displayed in Aviva vs. the Dybbuk coupled with the engaging story give it universal appeal. Includes glossary (excerpted definitions in quotes above).

THOUGHTS: You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate Aviva’s situation. Lowe presents the story through Aviva’s eyes which may make it more relatable to students: The distant mother, the struggle to be independent and act like everything is fine, the alienation from classmates. Lead readers who like this book to Lilliam Rivera’s young adult novel, Never Look Back. The dybbuk goading Aviva parallels the mysterious creature named Ato who haunts the main character. This well-written, compelling story offers an opportunity for non-Jewish readers to learn about different aspects of the Jewish religion in a non-polemic way. Any way books can open us up to be more tolerant, understanding people is a good thing. 

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Linked

Korman, Gordon. Linked. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-62911-8. 246 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Chokecherry, Colorado is a small town on the up and up – could even be the next Orlando! While paleontologists from a prestigious university are attempting to locate dinosaur fossils after dinosaur poop is discovered, a swastika appears painted on an atrium wall in the local school. The principal is determined to put an end to the hateful act by starting a unit on tolerance and after three weeks is confident that the event was a one time thing. But when a second and a third swastika appear, it looks as if the past of Chokecherry may be coming back into focus. The students of the school take it upon themselves to support one another and learn more about the Holocaust in order to fight back. An idea to start a paper chain that is six million links long, one link for each person who died during the Holocaust, becomes their primary focus. Lincoln Rowley, the popular athlete, helps round the troops and with the help of the student council and art club presidents, their huge undertaking begins. But when a local media star shows up, hoping to expose the town’s past while highlighting the paper chain, things get complicated. Told in different perspectives, this novel has twists and turns that will keep you reading!

THOUGHTS: Another hit by Korman, this title touches on a sensitive subject, antisemitism and the KKK. The characters each struggle with an inner demon which must be addressed before they can truly accept themselves and others. More somber than some of Korman’s other works, Linked has a balance of humor, hope, and sadness for how others treat people that are different from them. 

Realistic Fiction        Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Chokecherry, Colorado is not exactly a tourist destination. The small town does not have a whole lot going for it except for newly discovered dinosaur fossils which bring archeologists from a big city university to the area. Most people are content for the town to go unnoticed until an unfortunate event brings national press: Someone has drawn a swastika on the atrium wall at Chokecherry Middle School. Lincoln Rowley (Link as he is known to his friends and family) loves sports and pranks. He does not really think too much about the swastika until he learns a secret about his family, and he realizes that his ancestors are Jewish. He decides to complete a crash course in Judaism and have a bar mitzvah. Because of this decision, Link becomes the unofficial mascot of the newest middle school tolerance project: A paper chain with six million links to represent the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust. With the help of his friends Caroline, Michael, and Dana, Link and the entire school work towards this phenomenal goal with the hope of erasing the bad press from the swastika. This plan goes awry when more swastikas appear around the school, and no one seems to know who is drawing them.

THOUGHTS: Gordon Korman has once again knocked it out of the park. Told in alternating points of view, Korman’s book explores the very relevant topic of when a hate crime happens in a “it couldn’t happen here” community. This book would be an excellent literature choice for ELA classes in conjunction with a Holocaust unit in social studies or a school-wide reading challenge. The topic can lead to rich discussions with powerful lessons.

Realistic Fiction           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD