I dove into Like No Other after Eleanor & Park because I felt like my heart hadn’t quite been ripped out of my chest and I wanted to finish the job.
The story perfectly captures what it is like to be a teenager balancing the religion you were born into with what you know to be true. It also re-enforces the fact that religion largely benefits straight men. The sections where Devorah describes what life is like for Hasidic women reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale. What makes her struggle interesting and true, is that though Devorah can’t stand the more misogynist traditions of her religion, there are certain aspects of it that make sense to her.
Going into the book, I assumed, “There is no way this is going to end well,” and prepared myself to get bummed out by the end. There are some really intense scenes between Devorah and her Orthodox brother-in-law, Jacob, but they aren’t so uncomfortable I had to put the book down.
The sense of doom that overshadows the story is made bearable with some wonderful writing and internal monologues that are sombre, sensitive, and humorous. Devorah and Jax argue with themselves more than they do with each other, questioning their motives, actions, and what they hope to achieve. They both know their situation is hopeless but they charge ahead hoping the meaning of their internal struggles will reveal themselves in the end. And they do.
I loved how the author kept using Rucha, the girl who is expelled from her community, as a compass for Devorah’s decisions. I also loved how the opening anecdote keeps resurfacing until it’s secret is finally revealed in the closing chapters of the book.
I was really impressed with how the author created two distinct and authentic voices (authentic to me at least) for Devorah and Jax. I knew nothing about the author before I read the book and kept wondering if she was Hasidic or African American since she seemed to be speaking from personal experience. One of my best friends in high school was East Indian, and much of Jax’s narrative reminded me our conversations about subtle forms of racism.
If I had a teenage daughter, I would recommend Like No Other to her. Definitely a mature book for mature readers. The subject matter might be controversial for some households, but it’s well-researched and doesn’t go out of its way to condemn religion. Adults will enjoy it too.
If you liked this book, you might also like Sag Harbor.