Leanne Lieberman; $12.95 paper, 978-1-4598-0109-7, 227 pp., Orca Publishers, 2013 (ages 13+)
Kingston-based YA author, Leanne Lieberman offers an edgy, issue-oriented story, set in present-day Vancouver. Sixteen-year-old Lauren, whose father is a Holocaust historian, struggles with the usual teenage angst over boys, cliques, parental expectations, religion, little brothers, and frizzy hair. Basketball is a way to play one-on-one with her crush Jesse Summers, a popular boy at school, who has—as Lauren’s friend Brooke puts it— “radiant facial structure.” But just as romance begins to blossom, racism stops Lauren cold when she sees Jesse wearing a Nazi armband. Lauren knows its a game, but she feels sick to her stomach by what she’s seen. Should she tell an adult? Is it right to rat on her crush? Why is this game so wrong?
Lieberman captures the emotionally charged world of teens in this story that—like many teen dramas—features cliques. Text messages and shortforms (e.g., WTF, OMG) are integrated into the narrative. The demands of school, homework, and family obligations all dominate in Lauren’s life. While she works through tough issues and is a good student, Lauren’s not always a model of good behaviour. For instance, by page 7, she’s uttered the f-word. Later, she and her friends share some Vodka, stolen from her parents’ liquor cabinet. Some of her friends smoke at parties to look cool. Social dynamics and relationships with friends are central to Lauren’s life, but there’s a lot going on; she’s working through some profound questions.
True to the genre, the events that unravel result in personal growth and revelation. By the story’s end, Lauren has matured. She makes peace with Jesse and with her Jewish roots. The elements of Judaism will be familiar to some readers and will introduce others to new terms, including rabbi, synagogue, Rosh Hashana, Yiddish, the Book of Life, the Torah, Hebrew school, bar mitzvah, and anti-Semitism. This is an energetic and thought-provoking novel that will garner deep respect and compassion among readers for the Jews who endured terrible wrongs in the past. Most importantly, the book shows why this reverence holds fast today.
~ Jill Bryant