Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Publisher: Razorbill
Release: July 24, 2014
Source: PLA
Originally Posted At: Lit Up Review
Fate brought them together. Will life tear them apart? 

Devorah is a consummate good girl who has never challenged the ways of her strict Hasidic upbringing.

Jaxon is a fun-loving, book-smart nerd who has never been comfortable around girls (unless you count his four younger sisters).

They’ve spent their entire lives in Brooklyn, on opposite sides of the same street. Their paths never crossed . . . until one day, they did.

When a hurricane strikes the Northeast, the pair becomes stranded in an elevator together, where fate leaves them no choice but to make an otherwise risky connection.

Though their relation is strictly forbidden, Devorah and Jax arrange secret meetings and risk everything to be together. But how far can they go? Just how much are they willing to give up?

In the timeless tradition of West Side Story and Crossing Delancey, this thoroughly modern take on romance will inspire laughter, tears, and the belief that love can happen when and where you least expect it.
Like No Other appears to be a book based on clear, solid divides. Jaxon’s ancestors are West Indian; Devorah’s mostly-covered skin is pale. Jaxon comes from an average happy family; Devorah has been raised with restrictive regulations. Even the setting physically separates these characters, placing a street between them and confining them to their own neighborhoods—and that is not the only thing keeping them apart. Devorah and Jaxon can never be together; their cultures are simply too different and the rules of Devorah’s religion are too restraining. However, while this book’s premise may be based on a strict dichotomy of cultures and a strict set of religious guidelines, its story is all about the gray space between the groups and the rules.

Raised in a Hasidic family that keeps her from watching television, going out without a long skirt and tights, and most of all having any romantic feelings before an arranged marriage, Devorah thinks she knows the difference between right and wrong. However, in Like No Other, she begins to question the truths that have been instilled in her for her whole life, learning that being a good person is not as black and white as she thought. I loved watching her moral grappling as she debates whether or not to pursue her relationship with Jaxon and questions each lie she tells her parents. Devorah’s decision to finally consider that there might be some room for deviation in the laws she knows so well causes her to grow immensely. Most importantly, her conflict poses a question—what is morality, and how strict should its rules be?

Devorah does not denounce her religion completely after meeting Jaxon, though, which creates another mass of unclear questions in her life. Not only does Like No Other raise questions about morality in general, but it encourages readers to consider Hasidism in particular. Despite sharing her growing dread at the life her religion ensures, Devorah admits that she loves several things about her culture, saying her family is everything to her and clutching to religious traditions and beliefs as much as she can. LaMarche creates a vibrant and educational picture of the religion, both the good and the bad, and lets her protagonist discover the extent of her faith and decide which aspects she agrees with. As someone who could never be part of a culture with as little freedom as Hasidism offers, I could not help mentally urging Devorah to make the decision I would make in her position—Go! Go! Get out while you have the chance and find a way to somehow go to college and make a life for yourself that does not include marriage and babies at 18!—but more than that, I enjoyed watching with fascination as Devorah decides whether or not Hasidism is right—or what parts of it are right—for her.

Most of all, LaMarche explores the bridging of cultures. Her characters repeatedly reference race and culture-related stereotypes, from society’s assumptions about people of Jaxon’s skin color to Hasids’ scorning of “goys,” people outside their religion. However, neither Devorah nor Jaxon fits neatly into his or her stereotype, and they spend much of the novel sampling each other’s lifestyles. Obviously, Devorah tests Jaxon’s culture by breaking her rules against romance. Jaxon also looks into Devorah’s life in smaller ways like like planning a Shabbat date that does not require any of the activities that Hasidism forbids its members to complete on Saturdays. Not only does their willingness to experience each other’s cultures strengthen their own relationship, but proves that culture divides in general are not impossible to overcome.

I have not even come close to capturing this book’s captivating complexity, but as much as I would love to ramble about the rest of this book’s facets, I will stop myself here for fear of spoilers or an excessively long review. Through complicated relationships and knotted thoughts about their own beliefs, both Devorah and Jaxon grow into new, more mature and self-aware people, creating a stunning tale about shaping yourself and your future. Like No Other is at once about staying true to yourself and exploring new ideas, finding love and learning when to let it go. It is a book that any fan of love stories, multicultural tales, or novels about the shaping of self needs to read and one I will continue to recommend long into the future.

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