I’ve been waiting for this anthology for at least a couple of months. I saw it announced on Twitter and was immediately soooo excited. An anthology filled with Jewish stories by a bunch of Jewish authors? OMG, my younger self would have killed for a book like this, but I’m more than happy to read it now. It also doesn’t hurt that the title, It’s a Whole Spiel, is perfection. As soon as I heard it, it brought up so many memories (mainly all the Yiddish that I grew up with) that I knew this book was for me. Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman did a brilliant job editing this collection.
For the review, I’m going to give a little synopsis of what each story is about and then my thoughts. Alright, let’s get to it!
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A Jewish boy falls in love with a fellow counselor at summer camp. A group of Jewish friends take the trip of a lifetime. A girl meets her new boyfriend’s family over Shabbat dinner. Two best friends put their friendship to the test over the course of a Friday night. A Jewish girl feels pressure to date the only Jewish boy in her grade. Hilarious pranks and disaster ensue at a crush’s Hanukkah party.
From stories of confronting their relationships with Judaism to rom-coms with a side of bagels and lox, It’s a Whole Spiel features one story after another that says yes, we are Jewish, but we are also queer, and disabled, and creative, and political, and adventurous, and anything we want to be. You will fall in love with this insightful, funny, and romantic Jewish anthology from a collection of diverse Jewish authors.
Indoor Kids by Alex London
Josh is at a sports camp where he is a counselor but sports aren’t really his thing. He is an indoor kid. He’s much more into space. During one of the activities at camp, one of the campers tells him about a crisis happening at the International Space Station. As the news gets worse and worse for the astronauts, Josh becomes more and more worried. Luckily, he has someone to take his mind off of it all: Levi. Levi is a fellow counselor and according to Josh, super hot. And he might just like Josh too…
Thoughts: This was cute as hell! OMG the scenes with Josh and Levi are the best. When Josh first sees Levi he says he “didn’t realize Jewish boys could look like that” (paraphrasing) and I know exactly what he means lol. I also got really into the space stuff and was borderline worried some astronauts were about to die.
Two Truths and an Oy by Dahlia Adler
Mali is at college orientation at NYU and doing her best to leaver her very Jewish life behind her. During orientation, the group she’s in plays get-to-know-you games, but Mali has a hard time coming up with things that aren’t related to being Jewish. All her points of reference have to do with things she did with her Jewish friends. Additionally, she’s kosher, so when they ask her to go for pizza, she knows she can’t eat the same things they do.
So while she’s eating by herself in the college cafeteria, she sees a guy wearing a kippah (like a yarmulke). She goes up to him and introduces herself. His name is Akiva and he tells her more about life on campus. Due to this interaction, she realizes she doesn’t need to stay away from her Jewish life while at school. It will be a good way to make friends and feel connected.
Thoughts: First of all, the title is perfect. I always love some Yiddish sprinkled into my stories. I also highly relate to the anxiety Mila feels going to college orientation. They can be very scary. I loved how she was able to accept herself for who she is and is able to feel more comfortable at her new school
The Hold by David Leviathan
The narrator is a gay Jewish boy who hides who he is from his family. He doesn’t think they will accept him. But he doesn’t have to feel alone for long. He meets a boy, Moshe, at his cousin’s bat mitzvah. Him and Moshe figure out ways to meet secretly in NYC and see Broadway shows and spend time together. But one day, Moshe doesn’t show up. The narrator doesn’t know what to do. But when he gets back home, he finds out Moshe moved to California so he could be out and proud.
Thoughts: This made me so sad but also hopeful. Moshe was able to be more himself but he had to move away to do it. It takes longer for the narrator to do the same thing. I also liked how this story was told in parts: some from the present and some from the past. That’s hard to do and I always love when I writer executes it perfectly.
Aftershocks by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Miri is dating the only other Jewish kid in her class, Aaron, and is going over to his house for dinner to meet his parents. She doesn’t feel she is Jewish enough during the dinner and worries about her OCD but then an earthquake happens. They talk through their various blunders and about their relationship.
Thoughts: Ok, this was definitely one of my favorite stories. I just completely got Miri’s perspective of not feeling Jewish “enough” to participate in certain things. Like I don’t go to synagogue except for special occasions and my family celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas. But through the events in the story, Miri’s relationship with Aaron AND his parents becomes stronger and she becomes more sure of herself. People who go through difficult things together always bond in a way.
Good Shabbos by Goldy Moldavsky
Kayla and ST are outside of Shul looking for a guy ST likes (who happens to wear a basketball yarmulke) named Moe. He invites them to a party and they decide to go instead of going to Shabbaton. Kayla doesn’t really want to go, but she wants to support her friend.
But they must go to dinner at the home hosting them for shabbos first. On the way, a boy named Sruly starts following them. Right when they are about to call the cops, they find out he is having dinner at the same house they are.
After dinner, the girls realize they forgot the address to the party, but Sruly knows it and drops them off. But the party ends up being filled with college singles. Turns out they’re at the wrong place, but the brother of Moe tells them the right address.
At that point, they decide to go to kumzits at their teachers. After awhile, they leave and end up at the original party. But once again…it’s not at all what they expect. The girls leave and just so happen to meet Sruly on their way back home.
Thoughts: This story was more about friendship than anything else. Kayla and ST’s friendship is so strong but that doesn’t stop them from telling each other how it is. Kayla gets kind of drunk by the end of the night and it’s hilarious how ST and Sruly have to get her home.
Jewbacca by Lance Rubin
Rye meets Dara at an open-mic hosted by the temple, but unfortunately for Rye, Dara thinks the temple is Rye’s. He doesn’t lie but he doesn’t correct her either. His family doesn’t go to synagogue and they celebrate Christmas despite being Jewish.
He’s lied before about how religious he is, but this time…it gets a little out of hand. Dara invites Rye over to Hanukkah dinner and that’s when Rye finds out Dara’s dad is a rabbi!! For the whole dinner, Rye is nervous he is going to be found out. In his anxiety, he drops latkes on the floor and absolutely butchers the Hanukkah story (dude, I would have been right there with you). But with the help of Dara’s ex and Dara herself, he is able to realize what being Jewish actually means. It’s not what you do; it’s about what’s in your blood. =
Thoughts: Oh Rye, my fellow anxiety-have! I was with him the whole way. I could totally see my teen self lying about all this stuff. I love how it turned out to be Dara’s ex who helped Rye calm down a bit and not take it all so seriously. I also loved Rye and Dara’s relationship. They were very cute.
El Al 328 by Dana Schwarz
Fi is nervous on the plane ride she’s taking to Israel for her “birthright” trip. And as it turns out, she has reason to be. The turbulence is so bad, they have to land in Dublin for the night. Once at the hotel, everyone comes together in Fi’ and her friend’s room to play Spin the Bottle. Fi happens to have a crush on a boy in the group named Max and when the bottle lands on her when he spins it, he says he doesn’t want to play anymore. As you can probably guess, she feels awful after that. When they get back on the plan, Fi takes a seat by herself, realizing the people who she thought were her friends are not friends after all.
Thoughts: Damn this story was sad. I’ve not been in this exact situation but I’ve been the person no one wanted to hang out with and I absolutely felt for Fi. She gets a little bit of revenge in the end but she’s still left feeling lonely.
Some Days You’re the Sidekick; Some Days You’re the Superhero by Katherine Locke
Gabe writes fanfic (and has a non-binary sibling named Davey who their family accepts completely!) of the X-Men as the Maccabees. He is pretty famous in the fanfic community and helps run the community with one of his online friends, YaelLouder. It turns out this online friend, is actually his former friend, Sam, who Gabe feels awful about not defending at a bar mitzvah when her dress went up and people laughed at her. Unfortunately, so did Gabe. Since that, their relationship has never been the same. But once they realize who they are to each other online, they start to be friends again.
Thoughts: I LOVED THIS STORY! I love stories about fanfic and this one was so good. Gabe ends up fully apologizing for his action and OMG I love a well-written apology. They are so rare in real life that seeing them in fiction makes me happy. I also really appreciated the way they/them pronouns were used. ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS STORY!
He Who Revives the Dead by Elie Lichtschein
Raysh goes on her birthright trip and meets Moshe, a counselor who will show everyone around while in Israel. As part of this trip, Raysh is trying to get over her fear of water after she almost drowned. She thinks she’s going to have to get over this fear on her own, but the friends she makes along the way help her with her fear.
Thoughts: This was another of my favorite stories. Getting over a fear, especially a fear of water when you’ve almost drowned in the past, is no joke. I loved how Raysh didn’t have to do it alone. She thought they might not be the type of people who would even care about her, but they proved her wrong and god, I love that.
Be Brave and All by Laura Silverman
Naomi and Rachel go to Washington DC for a JZY convention. But while they’re walking around the city, Naomi sees people handing out flyer for an anti-gun/gun reform protest the next day. She wants to go,but she has anxiety issues. It’s also Shabbat and there will be other things to do. But then she meets Adam, another boy on the trip and he agrees to go with her, They sneak out of the hotel and she has the best time. And they are able to be brave together.
Thoughts: If I was forced to pick my favorite story in the whole anthology, this would be my pick. It has everything I love. Fighting through anxiety, a little bit of romance, and activism!! This story is absolutely delightful.
Neilah by Hannah Moskowitz
Tina has issues with food, mainly eating too little. Her family also tends to focus on calories and what foods are “best” for you. She and her girlfriend Mira go to services at their college together and this is Tina’s first time as she is more culturally Jewish than religious, unlike Mira. She has always worried about being too much, being too thin or too fat, too loud, too quiet. But after listening to the service, she starts to except herself and realizes that maybe she should get some help.
Thoughts: This was a really nice, quiet story. If covers a heavy topic like body issues/food, but the way it evolves and Tina grows as it goes on is understated and I really like that. I also enjoyed Tina and Mira’s relationship. Mira is gentle with Tina and I love a gentle couple.
Find the River by Matthue Roth
Alex joins a Jewish youth group because of his friend is part of, but ends up meeting a girl he knows named Alix. Through his experiences, he learns about the meaning of what being Jewish (especially orthodox) means to the kids around him and what it means to him.
Thoughts: Because this was more about the more orthodox/religious aspects of being Jewish, it was a little hard for me to relate to it, but I still found it to be an interesting story. Alix wouldn’t change the way she lived despite what others thought of her and I love that.
Ajshara by Adi Alsaid
Tzvi goes on a year long trip of different countries, spends times with friends, parties, falls in love, etc., and discovers what he truly wants from life. He also happens to see ghosts! Through these travel, he tries to escape the ghosts that follow him around, but, ultimately, he learns to accept them.
Thoughts: I’d never heard of this type of trip before and it was fascinating to go on this journey with Tzvi as he figured out who he was before he went back home to continue his life. I also loved the ghost aspect. Everyone has their ghosts they rather not deal with and seeing it interpreted this way was brilliant.
Twelve Frames by Nova Ren Suma
Simone likes to dress eclectically, but in a new town that isn’t always accepted. She decides to try though. So when she goes to the local flea market to sell her grandfather’s camera, she dresses how she wants. It would be an understatement to say she is nervous as hell. But while walking around the market, she meets a girl named Goldie. She is “different” like Simone. She sets out a blanket at the market and has pictures of different famous amazing Jewish women for sale.
Simone offers that she’s “kinda” Jewish, but Goldie explains that she just is, not “kinda.” She also tells Simone that she cannot sell the camera. Her grandfather wouldn’t like it (It’s made clear that Goldie may be able to see the grandfather’s ghost). So, they take pictures of each other and become fast friends, Goldie helping Simone to accept herself.
Thoughts: OMG I absolutely loved this story. I have been Simone. I dressed however I wanted in middle and high school and have been the one people looked at weird. I wish I had had a friend like Goldie. It would have made things a lot easier. But being able to read this story and feel some of the light of their friendship is enough. Now there’s a story for the kids I used to be.
Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf Books for Young Readers for the free eARC in exchange for my honest review.