A book list alerted me to the existence of Like No Other by Una LaMarche (Razorbill, 2014). Seriously, book lists: I love them so much, and they’re so hard on my TBR! But as I read the synopsis, I knew I had to read this one. It’s always such a joy discovering a book that’s right up your literary alley!
Devorah is a Hasidic Jewish teen from the Chabad-Lubavitch sect. Jaxon is a Black teen who lives just down the block, but their paths have never crossed- not until today, when Devorah’s sister is giving birth (prematurely!) in the hospital in the middle of a Category 3 hurricane. Her parents are upstate and unable to be there; her sister’s husband is unable to be with her due to religious rules, so Devorah’s the support person. When she goes to look for her brother-in-law but instead gets trapped in the powerless elevator, she meets Jaxon. Despite Devorah’s religious community’s strict rules on never being alone with someone of the opposite sex, Jaxon immediately puts her at ease, and after they’re freed, she can’t stop thinking about him, and he can’t stop thinking about her.
They’re not allowed to be together- Devorah’s not even supposed to be speaking to him, and dating is strictly forbidden- but Devorah and Jaxon forge an attempt at a relationship, while Devorah begins questioning why everything is so forbidden to her, why college isn’t allowed, why her parents are planning to arrange her marriage to a complete stranger in two years. Two kids, both pillars of their community, suddenly realize the need for more, and they’re out to find it despite what the very different worlds around them are saying.
Like No Other has as much tension bursting off of every page as any thriller out there. Devorah and Jaxon have to sneak to be together, and the fear of being caught is real. Devorah could be ostracized from her entire community; even beyond that, her siblings might be denied marriages because of the stain Devorah’s behavior leaves on the whole family if she’s caught. The stakes for Jaxon aren’t quite as high, but he’s still risking all the hard work he’s put into school the past few years; if his grades tank enough, he might be saying farewell to the chance at a scholarship. Ms. LaMarche’s portrayal of two kids willing to risk it all to be together is full of tension and the flutters of first-time love.
At times, I did feel as though Devorah acted out of character; her reversal from being a goody two-shoes into someone willing to risk her family’s standing in the community felt just a tiny bit far-fetched. I would’ve liked to have seen her question a little bit more before suddenly turning into someone ready to throw everything away and assuming her parents would be willing to have a rational discussion when she returned home. But other than that, this felt real and true-to-character. Jaxon’s rash decisions felt a little more understandable, as he’d been living in that world his whole life, whereas Devorah’s life had been smaller, more constrained, and she had never once stepped off the path before. They’re both good kids in every sense of the word, but I would have liked to see Jaxon learn a little more about Devorah’s community on his own, instead of just assuming her parents would eventually come around, something that only Devorah knew was impossible.
Content warning for physical assault and the racism that is unfortunately pervasive in parts of the Hasidic community. There’s some history here that the book glosses over: the Crown Heights riots took place in the early 90’s, though I’m not sure how many teens who live outside of this area are aware of what happened.
Like No Other is a tension-filled story of the highs and lows of first love, with the added fear of losing everything if that love is discovered. It’s a wonderful, edge-of-your-seat story, and I enjoyed every page.