Sixteen year old Devorah Blum is a such a good Hasidic girl, she’s nicknamed frum Blum. It is nearly Rosh Hashanah and she’s at the hospital awaiting the arrival of her 18 year old sister’s first child. She’s in the waiting room sitting next to her brother-in-law, Jacob. It’s hurricane weather outside.
Taking the elevator down to the cafeteria, the electricity goes out and the elevator stops. That’s a problem in and of itself. However, the even bigger problem is that there is a 16 year old boy, Jaxon, in the elevator as well, and good Hasidic girls are not allowed to be alone with members of the opposite sex, regardless of the circumstances. As Devorah squats in the farthest corner of the elevator car, long dress draped over her legs, Jaxon starts talking to her. Against her better judgment, she begins to respond, his easy going manner and genuine interest a far cry from what Deborah’s used to.
As any astute reader will surmise, Jaxon is not Jewish. Additionally, he is Black, so he’s got a double negative against him. Before you know it, there’s an attraction between them and they are sneaking off to see each other, the consequences (especially Devorah’s), if found out (and you know they will be), be damned.
LaMarche paints what I’d consider a realistic picture of Hasidic life and thought, and the actions taken when a young girl rebels against Hasidic life. (Interestingly, I don’t recall reading any books about males exploring outside their very insular life. If you know of one, I’d be interested.) Having witnessed first hand what the Hasidic community will do when someone dates outside the religion, the actions taken by Jacob and Devorah’s parents do not surprise me.
While I thought at some points that Devorah’s actions and transformation were not realistic, I discovered, as I thought about it, that my thoughts changed. When a girl who is brought up all her life knowing she’ll get matched to a suitable mate and ‘learn’ to love him after marriage, experiences a physical and emotional attraction to someone for the first time, she could very well consider it love. (It might or might not be.) And given Devorah’s spunk, she’ll pursue it as aggressively as she can, bearing in mind the tug of war she’s having between her upbringing and family vs. her freedom.
And when a young man meets a girl who is so not the average girl he’s used to meeting, he too may interpret it as love, whether or not it truly is, and pursue her aggressively.
Like No Other is a powerful story. I can understand both Jaxon’s and Devorah’s emotions, their longing for each other. Devorah’s struggle to align her religious upbringing and beliefs with her desire to explore the outer world is true. Contrast that with Jaxon’s more liberal, more understanding family and you can understand Devorah’s turmoil.
I just need to say that insularity of Hasidic Judaism is not unique. There are many nationalities and religions that frown upon young women venturing out on their own, where parents determine the lives that their daughters, especially, will lead. And therefore, this book should resonate with young girls wherever they may be.
We, more liberal folk, tend to think that the whole world is in the 21st century, but clearly that is not true. Definitely give Like No Other a try.