By Una LaMarche
Available July 24 from Razorbill (Penguin Random House)
The cover is a clear bid to convince ELEANOR AND PARK fans to pick up LIKE NO OTHER. I think it's a smart move. LIKE NO OTHER is a bittersweet book about a cross-cultural romance, written in an appealing and immediate style. It is contemporary, although I can see the lettering making a potential reader think seventies.
Devorah is part of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic Jewish community in Crown Heights Brooklyn. She's a good girl to friends, family, and teachers alike. But when she sees her sister's light crushed after her marriage and meets Jaxon, she starts questioning the strict traditions that govern her life. Jaxon is a somewhat nerdy Brooklynite of West Indian descent who can't believe he managed to hit it off with Devorah when they got stuck in an elevator together. He's caught up in the first flush of love, and hurt that Devorah wants to keep him a secret.
I thought LIKE NO OTHER was a wonderful depiction of a young relationship and two teenagers' growing confidence in themselves and their desires. But this book made me so mad (often in a good way). I hated that Devorah had to risk being cut off from her community and her family, because so many of the rules she lives under are ridiculous. Being accidentally alone with a man is a potential smirch on her honor. Giving birth is unclean. No dating before marriage. I understand things like when a woman wants to dress modestly before God. But this felt, because it is how Devorah felt, like she was being forced to dress modestly to prevent being a temptation.
Meanwhile, Jaxon kept making the dumbest romantic gestures. He just wants to impress Devorah and reassure himself that she feels the same way, but he really never gets that Devorah could get disowned because of their relationship. He forces her to take stupid risks, which really soured me on him. I could accept the risks of the relationship not being equal for them, but I had trouble with him refusing to understand the gravity of the risks Devorah takes. (Although, to be fair, in the end the relationship is quite risky for Jaxon.)
I thought that LIKE NO OTHER was a compelling look at Hasidic Judaism and a sweet, ultimately very realistic romance. Una LaMarche's novel might've made me angry, but it's a powerful book that can make me feel so deeply.