“You want to start a diverse book club? We can read a book together and discuss what we learned about another culture/race/religion?”
That’s all it took: my lovely and clever friend (who’s white and Southern and has lived in a mostly segregated area) was willing to read outside of her comfort zone of fantasy and romance, so how could I not take her up on it? I sent a couple of emails to other trusted bloggers I knew had an interest in the subject and voila, the four-blog YA Diversity Book Club was born! Very early on we decided to launch the book club with “Like No Other” by Una LaMarche; it sounded like the perfect pick and it definitely was, as you can see below in a curated transcript of our Google Hangout about the book. Many thanks to Razorbill for sending us all review copies of the book!
We Heart YA: I’m excited to chat! I actually read the book this time, lol. Starting out on the right foot.
Reading Date: Should we go around and share first impressions of Like No Other? What was your experience with the book?
Teen Lit Rocks: Because I lived in Brooklyn, right down the street from Brooklyn Tech, and because a close friend of mine converted to Lubavitcher when we were in college and I know a lot about that community and the race riots, etc… I connected with the story and how much the cultural divide of Crown Heights/Brooklyn is a part of it.
We Heart YA: I liked both characters, so it was easy and fun to read their voices. I felt especially connected to Devorah’s struggle with her family’s traditions, and seeing both the good and bad in them. But I have to admit, I struggled to buy into the speed and intensity with which she and Jaxon fell in love.
Gone Pecan: I loved seeing the glimpses into Dev’s family but I don’t think Jaxon’s background was highlighted enough. COMPLETELY AGREE on the relationship
Reading Date: I liked the meet-cute in the elevator, but the love story progressed so fast. I also connected with Devorah and felt her story was developed much more than Jaxon’s.
Teen Lit Rocks: I think she got the stuff she did include about Jaxon’s story right. Caribbeans don’t think of themselves as African American and they tend to be really focused on education and becoming professionals here and setting themselves apart. But yes, despite the dual POV, it’s more Devorah’s story than Jaxon’s. Because in the end she is the one taking the lifelong never look back risk.
Reading Date: Yes, and at the same time we saw Jaxon self-conscious of the way strangers would react to him on the street.
We Heart YA: Yeah, I don’t have any personal knowledge of either of these communities, but it all felt authentic to me, and well-researched without being didactic.
Reading Date: Agreed, as someone unfamiliar with the Hasidic faith, it seemed like the author did her research. All of the scenes with Devorah’s family were interesting to me.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes the descriptions of the neighborhoods and the insularity of the Lubavitch community was spot on. My friend converted in college and she had to learn how to dress the part and wear the stockings and eventually when she got married to a man she was set up with… she had to wear a wig and totally immersed herself in the lifestyle.
In fact, her last name is in the book, and she’s a midwife, so I kinda wondered if she was a resource for the book! But I know Una talked to mostly women who had left the community
Reading Date: The only character that was over the top for me was Jacob. You could almost see his villainous mustache twirling.
Gone Pecan: a little off book but why did you friend choose to convert if it wasn’t for marriage to start? that seems like a huge change
Teen Lit Rocks: Well actually Jews aren’t keen on converting just for marriage, although it’s common among Reform Jews
We Heart YA: I was wondering the same thing, Kristina.
Teen Lit Rocks: I believe she converted because she was looking for a faith, and she took a class about Judaism in college and felt a connection.
Gone Pecan: Jacob, UGH. I was shocked his father-in-law let him back talk so much.
We Heart YA: And yes, Lucy, I agree that Jacob was a bit caricature-d — but then at the end he just magically softens?
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, he seemed a bit much, but there are definitely men like that in that community. I thought in the end Devorah’s sister had finally stood up to him in private.
Gone Pecan: What gets me about people like that is they are the problem but truly believe its the other person.
We Heart YA: *nods*
Reading Date: What did you think of the dual POV?
We Heart YA: Speaking of the dad, I really liked how involved all the parents were in the story. I thought the dual POV worked well, because the voices were distinct, but as we mentioned, the story was more weighted toward Devorah.
Gone Pecan: I liked seeing the women’s backbones when the men weren’t looking so to speak
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, completely agree with you Kristan.
We Heart YA: I would have liked a bit more time with Jaxon’s family
Teen Lit Rocks: I loved her best friend. She was really believable to me. The whole frum/frei distinction and how that all got flipped was great!
We Heart YA: Yes! Very cute dynamic between them.
Reading Date: Agreed. Jaxon’s friend was great too.
Teen Lit Rocks: Kiki, I agree. I thought I had a sense of who everyone in Devorah’s family was, but I didn’t really get to know the sisters that well
We Heart YA: Jaxon’s best friend was a good character too. Tritto what Kiki and Sandie are saying about Jaxon’s sisters. I couldn’t keep them straight — but it didn’t really matter, in a way.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yup, and he lived in my old neighborhood, so I totally knew boys like that!
Gone Pecan: I think seeing more of Jaxon’s family would have added more “lightness” to the subject to break up the serious side with Dev’s family.
Teen Lit Rocks: Although in a way, they were serious too. They were working really really hard in hopes their kids would make something better for themselves. So they weren’t easy breezy parents. But yes, there was humor in both families, from the siblings and friends.
Reading Date: liked how the two families were somewhat similar, with the strong work ethic and family values.
We Heart YA: Yes!
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, Lucy, exactly — and both with several children
Gone Pecan: Right, it’s a family. Still together, trying to do right. That’s a great example to have nowadays.
We Heart YA: It was so smart/good of LaMarche to offer parallels in addition to the (more obvious) differences.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, and you rarely (sadly) see strong black fathers in pop culture. I loved those moments with Jaxon and his parents.
Reading Date: For a contemporary romance type book, there was a lot of tension in the story. Especially the worry about Jaxon and Devorah being discovered. Did you guys think Jaxon was a little pushy about the relationship?
We Heart YA: I think Jaxon was a bit reckless, but it came from a place of truly not comprehending.
Teen Lit Rocks: I thought Jaxon didn’t really GET the stakes for Devorah. I was actually a bit shocked when he pulled that big moment.
We Heart YA: And I think under more normal circumstances, he might have been right in thinking Devorah shouldn’t get to set all the terms. That said, yes, at times he came off as… inconsiderate, for lack of a better word, because he wasn’t truly taking her culture into consideration.
Reading Date: I was so worried for her given her family circumstances.
Teen Lit Rocks: Right, Kristan, he didn’t understand why it had to be that way
Reading Date: Their romantic relationship had such a desperation to it since they couldn’t be together. Star-crossed lovers indeed.
Gone Pecan: I thought Jaxon was way too pushy
Reading Date: He tried to get it but just didn’t understand Devorah’s world.
Gone Pecan: Right… but the timeframe of the book was very short. He knew her background somewhat but it almost seemed that he might think she was faking it? Her parents weren’t just going to send her to bed with no supper.
Reading Date: The relationship was the catalyst to get them to where they needed to be, so that was good anyway.
Teen Lit Rocks: I think the ending (without giving anything away) was believable and poignant without being overwrought
We Heart YA: Agreed.
Reading Date: Can we talk about the ending? I thought it was really refreshing and such a satisfying conclusion to Devorah’s journey.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, exactly. I wasn’t sure where the story was going to go, especially once she was in Monsey, so I really appreciated the ending!
Gone Pecan: I was just ok with it. I (personally) wanted more.
We Heart YA: … I applaud the more realistic closing
Gone Pecan: I found her family interactions fascinating but I really wanted more on his side and his family.
Teen Lit Rocks: Maybe if the book does well she can do a novella like everyone else does!
Reading Date: Ha true!
We Heart YA: From a diversity standpoint, I think this book did a really good job introducing readers to new communities within our own country.
Teen Lit Rocks: Did you all feel she did a thorough enough job explaining the “rules” the Lubavitchers live by?
We Heart YA: And I felt like LaMarche did a good job showing pros and cons to the Hasidic life.
Teen Lit Rocks: I know most people outside of NYC aren’t necessarily likely to run into Hasidic sects… Also, not sure she explained, but Brooklyn Tech is a NYC-wide magnet high school that you have to test into. it’s very hard to get in; It’s one of the top 3-4 public high schools in the City. So him skipping or being late was no joke!
Reading Date: Yes, I think the author was very thorough about introducing the Hasidic faith and the “rules”. I learned so much.
We Heart YA: Didn’t necessarily know or understand that about Brooklyn Tech, but it seems like one of those things where, if you know, you get an extra appreciation; if you don’t, you’re still good to go.
Gone Pecan: Yeah I didn’t get the thing about the school but that just plays into Jaxon didn’t have as much “air time” as Dev I guess
Reading Date: The setting served the book well. Two families that live so close but are from different worlds.
Gone Pecan: I def felt comfortable with the level of info about Devorah’s culture though some terms threw me and I had to stop and think about a couple to remember.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, and given the current world events, what a timely story about overcoming differences to see the good in the “other”… Can you guys think of other dual POVs where one person is given the last word or is more prominently featured?
Gone Pecan: Eleanor and Park, to me it was more Park… but I LOVE him so I’m ok with that
Reading Date: I’ve seen Like No Other compared to E&P also. I can’t think of another dual POV like that.
Gone Pecan: Personally I wouldn’t compare it other than the POVs
Teen Lit Rocks: Really? I haven’t been reading much about it. I guess now RR is so hot everything is being compared to it!
Reading Date: Yes, Sandie, you hit the nail on the head!
We Heart YA: Yeah, I can see why it would be easy to compare to E&P, but I think the similarities are superficial.
Reading Date: Any last thoughts on Like No Other?
We Heart YA: Just that I’d love to see more books like this — of any genre — where culture is used so well. Organically and respectfully.
Teen Lit Rocks: I hope readers will give it a chance, even if they don’t usually read intercultural love stories.
Reading Date: I hope it finds an audience too. Such a rich story.
Teen Lit Rocks: I know some women who will look at the cover and say “Not for me don’t know anything about that experience” when that’s precisely why we should read books sometimes, to find out about worlds or communities that are foreign to us
Gone Pecan: I think it will do well
We Heart YA: So true, Sandie!
Teen Lit Rocks: I think Razorbill is smart to market it as Romeo and Juliet in Brooklyn — and I hope the tagline of sorts will get readers outside of NYC to pick it up!
Gone Pecan: I love books about NYC. makes me want to go even more
We Heart YA: Lol I actually don’t… I think NYC is overdone. But! This was, IMO, not the typical NYC setting/story.
Reading Date: I think NYC is a positive selling point too since everyone has heard of it. I love reading about NYC.
Teen Lit Rocks: Right, but it’s finally not the Upper East Side or rich white kids in the Village
We Heart YA: Yes, exactly!
Reading Date: I’ve only been to Brooklyn once but this book made me want to go back and explore.
Teen Lit Rocks: Well name the date and I’ll be your guide… I loved the references to the hipsters moving in (but on the Caribbean side)… That rang especially true.
Oops, I went off on a tangent when we are supposed to wrap up!
We Heart YA: Haha. Well I’m glad we all seemed to enjoy this first book! Seems like a good start to the club.