When I was a little girl, I used to watch West Side Story over and over. I had a strong sense of justice, and loved getting swept up in Maria and Tony’s rebellious romance, not to mention worked up over their communities’ totally lame and unfair objections to it. Later, as a teen, I was consistently attracted to boys for whom my parents harbored built-in disapproval: usually boys in bands, and boys who had been expelled from one or more high schools. Most nights were filled with hushed, flirtatious phone calls followed by blood-vessel bursting screaming matches with my mom, who just didn’t understand. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized parents’ disapproval of their teenage daughters’ romantic choices isn’t always about blind prejudice. More often then we’d like to think, it’s about the fact that teenage love is intense, and it tends not to end well.
Like No Other by Una LaMarche is a forbidden love story not unlike Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, or West Side Story, for that matter: It begins when Devorah, a Hasidic Jewish girl, meets Jaxon, a second generation Caribbean-American boy, when the two are stuck in an elevator during a hurricane power outage. Now if you don’t know about the Hasidic faith, it’s an incredibly closed community and it is beyond taboo for an unmarried Hasidic girl to be alone with any boys, much less a boy outside her faith and race. Despite the fact that they wouldn’t speak to each other under normal circumstances, Devorah and Jaxon make an undeniable connection during their time in that elevator that changes their lives forever–embarking on a forbidden friendship that will soon blossom into first love, risking everything–family, faith, and friends–to be together.
Yes, this book has all the swoon-worthy, drama-filled, heart-pounding romance I couldn’t get enough of growing up, but it also has perspective. It shows the powers and the pitfalls of family, tradition and faith. It shows the highs and lows of first love. But most remarkably, it cracks open a door of possibility beyond first love (I mean, it’s called first love for a reason), reminding readers that the future is out there, it’s longer than you think, and it’s all yours.
Sometimes I look back on my teen love interests and wonder if my parents were right. They were right to worry about my heart. All good parents should. They were wrong to think they could stop it from loving boys in bands. (I’m marrying one next month.) First love is not the be-all-end-all that it feels like in the moment, but it is the start of something exquisite that never really does go away.
Thank you, Una LaMarche, for capturing this and reminding me.
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