A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
What's the story?
Jaxon and Devorah live just across a major Brooklyn thoroughfare from each other, but they might as well be living in different countries. Studious Jaxon, the son of Caribbean immigrants, lives on the black (and increasingly hipster) side of Eastern Parkway, whereas devout Devorah, the daughter of Hasidic Jews, lives in the Orthodox-only part of the neighborhood. When a power outage at a local hospital leaves the two of them stranded in an elevator together, the two make an unexpected connection. Unable to stop thinking about each other, Jaxon and Devorah start a seemingly ill-fated romance that's forbidden by Orthodox law and unwise, given the history of tension between the communities.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about cross-cultural or interracial dating. Why was Jaxon and Devorah's romance forbidden? Was it about race or religion? How did the teens handle their differences?
Many have compared the book to Romeo & Juliet. In what ways does the comparison hold up? How is this story different?
What do you think of the ending? Is it believable? Is it what you were expecting?
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