30 October 2014

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Where to begin? I just read Una LaMarche’s Like No Other, and I still can’t quite wrap my brain around it. It was touching and warm, exploring cultures (Hasidic Judaism in particular) that were completely foreign to me. It was intense and passionate, seeing the first flowering of teenage love.

Like No Other may have had one of best meet-cutes I've seen in a long, long while: trapped on an elevator during a hurricane, Devorah does her best to avoid Jaxon, the boy she's trapped with, but the attraction between them is instant.

Like No Other is seeing a lot of praise for the diversity of its characters, and it's well-deserved: both Devorah's Hasidic faith and Jaxon's race (he's of West Indian extraction) inform their characters without defining them. Both come from an area of Brooklyn which has historically had racial tensions (I had to look up the Crown Heights Riot - I'm not from New York), but both are so drawn to each other that they're willing to do whatever they have to if it means they can be together.

And they have to do a lot. Lie. Skip school and work. Avoid the overly-pious brother-in-law.

As was inevitable, shit hits the fan. People find out. And what happens from there was absolutely harrowing - but, ultimately, redeeming.

I had a total brain fart when I sat down to write this - I couldn't remember Devorah's name for the life of me! Embarrassing, right? But as I googled to remind myself, I came across the Goodreads reviews page.

A lot of people talked about Devorah's struggle: to find the balance between her faith, her upbringing, and her heart. The reviews I skimmed were all over the place on their feelings on the matter, but all seemed to think that Devorah went through a lot more than Jaxon.

I disagree. Maybe it's because I'm male, but I thought Jaxon had just as much to struggle against. You can see it every time he sees people looking at him. Every time he casually mentions the stereotypes he comes up against. The fact that, when he first meets Devorah, he's convinced she's terrified of him - not because he's a boy, but because of the color of his skin.

Jaxon's struggle is quieter than Devorah's, but it's no less important. Devorah has to learn if she can follow her heart, even when her family, her religion, her upbringing are all telling her not to. Jaxon has to learn if he can follow his, when society has painted a very unfavorable picture of him for being who he is.

Like No Other was a beautiful book. We Need Diverse Books and this one was excellent.