Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

  • Release Date: July 24th 2014
  • Pages: 368
  • Genre: Contemporary 
  • Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)

Like No Other has an easy pitch; take the star crossed lovers trope and apply it to a  Hasidic Jewish girl  and West Indian boy in 21st century Brooklyn with a meet cute in a broken elevator during a storm.

 I really like  what this book is doing in terms of the current state of YA publishing. It’s like yeah diversity in YA,  yeah diverse cover art and oh look The New York Times is reviewing a diverse book by a female author.  But despite my cheering for its successes I kind of take issue with LaMarche's portrayal of the male protagonist Jaxon

I didn't necessarily hate his character. Jaxon is a nerdy first generation West Indian who represents the average teen boy and I actually like many of his introductory paragraphs.

It's funny; I forget sometimes how I might look to other people. I could be reading The Great Gatsby on the 3 train, or walking down the street listening to a podcast on my phone, or coming out of the orthodontist's office with Invisalign braces feeling like the biggest nerd on the planet, but some people don't notice anything but an almost six-foot-tall black man.

But aside from a few mentions about being a black nerd in the beginning, his own race and West Indian culture identity are almost non-existent in the course of this relationship. In this interview LaMarche explains Jaxon is an audience avatar to the Hasidic culture and she didn't want to make him "so other." You don't have to look farther than a Buzzfeed list  to know that being a first generation American is just as much a unique perspective and the choice to remove feels like she is saying the only way to do diversity is to have it appeal to a white audience. I think it's fair to say you could be West Indian and still know nothing about Hasidic Jewish culture.

Jaxon's characterization wouldn't have bothered me so much if this book wasn't from his point of view, but he gets just as many chapters as Devorah and he gets significantly less development and conflict.

That said our female protagonist,  Devorah has a very strong story arc and point of view. I like that her life changes when she meets a boy and not just because she meets a boy. And while there is one Hasidic Jewish Strawman, for the most part her family is portrayed as nuanced in their experiences with their faith and it is clear from the acknowledgements that LaMarche did lots of research to understand a community that can be very private.

For me this book it falls under  the your fave is problematic category. It's an interesting, funny romance with a refreshing angle and I learned some history of Brooklyn I  never knew, but the story of their relationship felt very lopsided.

1 comment :

  1. What a bummer she introduces such a potentially dynamic character only to fall short on writing his culture, traditions, and beliefs and how they are shaping his experience as a first gen West Indian-American. It does sound like what his characterization lacked was more than given to Devorah. Despite the unbalance, it seems you were able to get some enjoyment from the story. Maybe the author will take this kind of criticism to heart and give it a better effort next time, provided she tries diversity again.


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