Next up on the 2023 Popsugar Reading Challenge: a book set in the decade you were born! I was born in 1980, and luckily, on my TBR was The Return by Sonia Levitin (Fawcett Juniper, 1988), set in the 1980’s. It’s historical fiction (wait, does that mean I’m historical, at this age???), along with being Jewish fiction and young adult. It hadn’t been sitting on my TBR for too long, but I was glad to get to it, because it covered a topic I knew little about.
Desta lives in Ethiopia, a member of Beta Israel, a persecuted group of Jews who are struggling to survive. Her parents are both gone, and she and her brother and sister live with their aunt and uncle. Food is scarce; Desta isn’t allowed the education she truly longs for; the locals treat Beta Israel with contempt at best. Life is difficult, but there’s still joy to be found. Rumors are swirling that there are ways to leave, though leaving Ethiopia is forbidden for Beta Israel, and when white Jews come from America to speak with Desta’s group, her brother begins making plans to escape to Jerusalem. When their hand is forced, she and her brother grab their little sister and start out on a dangerous journey to a land they’ve only ever dreamed of.
Phew. This is a tense book, but I deeply appreciated the glimpse it gave me into the lives of Ethiopian Jews before and after making the dangerous trek to Israel. I knew the briefest bits of their story, mostly about the airlifts that rescued them, but I didn’t know the details, and this story really helped fill in some of the blanks, especially about the difficult conditions they lived under in Ethiopia and why they were so difficult.
It’s interesting how much writing styles have changed in YA since this was published. I feel like this very much would’ve fit the style that was prevalent when I was a tween (just after this was published), but it’s so different from what’s new today. (Not a criticism, just an observation. Of course styles change, but every so often, I’m reminded how far YA has come!) I’m glad I got to this so quickly; I’m always thrilled to expand my Jewish knowledge, so this was a really interesting read for me.