A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers will learn a great deal, particularly about Brooklyn, the neighborhood of Crown Heights, and the tension between the Hasidic Jewish community and the black Caribbean community there. The tenets of Orthodox/Hasidic Judaism are explained thoroughly enough for all to understand, even though there are words in Yiddish and Hebrew peppered throughout the story. The book describes an area of New York that's often overlooked in young adult books.
Although both Devorah and Jaxon make the occasional questionable decision, there are really important messages in Like No Other about family, faith, and friendship. To discuss some of the messages would be to give away the ending, but the story encourages teens to carefully consider their family's values and parents' teachings, even if they're willing to go against them. The book stresses that love shouldn't be hindered by skin color or family background, but it also makes clear that religious restrictions are harder to get around if you truly believe in them. Devorah's and Jaxon's story arcs will make readers think about how, underneath, despite outward differences, people may be more alike than they seem.
Positive Role Models
Jaxon and Devorah have very involved, loving, and caring parents. Jaxon's parents work long and hard and expect their kids to do the same, to excel at school and get into college. Devorah's parents value faith above everything else and expect their kids to follow all the rules of the close-knit Lubavitcher community. Jaxon and Devorah are both intelligent, kind, and helpful, but they're also questioning their identities, their futures, and what their parents expect. Both have close relationships with their siblings, and each is in love with the other.
Violence & Scariness
A group of Hasidic men beat up and bloody Jaxon, whom they believe has defiled a young Hasidic woman. The book discusses race riots and other tense relations between the Hasidic and Caribbean communities of Crown Heights. Jaxon gets mad at a much bigger football player, and they almost get into a fight, but, after exchanging a few insults, they realize they can't have a real fight in school or risk expulsion.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some religiously forbidden kissing and a couple of make-out sessions, but no sex. Devorah explains some of the many rules about when and how men and women can touch in Orthodox Judaism. Devorah has to tell her rabbi how far she and Jaxon went physically.
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Infrequent strong language: "s--t," "a--hole," "f--k."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Like No Other is a contemporary romance with a definite Romeo and Juliet (or, more appropriately, West Side Story) feel: Two young people from opposite sides of a segregated New York neighborhood fall in love. A story about racially and religiously diverse characters, the book is fine for younger YA readers, even though it does contain a smattering of strong language and the occasional (but not frequent) kiss -- as well as one disturbing beating. Teen (and adult) readers will learn a great deal about Brooklyn's Crown Heights area and its two main communities -- Caribbean immigrants and Hasidic Jews -- and will ponder the truth that, although love sees no color or faith, families and friends certainly do.
Is It Any Good?
Una LaMarche's LIKE NO OTHER, her second novel, is a multicultural Romeo and Juliet-like story that comes at a time when diversity in young adult books is desperately needed. The book's as much a compelling study of Brooklyn's ethnically and religiously diverse yet segregated Crown Heights neighborhood as it is a touching forbidden romance. Some readers might find the romance a bit too abrupt, but, hey, if it happened in one night in Shakespeare, who can blame LaMarche for having Devorah and Jaxon fall in love quicker than would seem wise, considering all their obstacles? The two aren't actually together nearly as often as they're thinking about being together, and that's what makes their scenes with each other so heightened with emotion.
Although LaMarche employs the popular dual narration, alternating perspectives between Dev and Jax, the story often favors Devorah's experience and gives her more page time than Jaxon. It's somewhat understandable, because the stakes are much higher for her than for Jaxon (she risks expulsion from her entire community, and he only risks disappointing his parents). But it will leave his fans wishing there had been more from his point of view. Ultimately, this is a tale of self-discovery, not simply falling for someone from the wrong side of the street. Even readers completely unfamiliar with Brooklyn, Hasidim, and the history of Crown Heights will find LaMarche's thoroughly researched novel as enlightening as it is poignant.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.