Chanukah (or Hanukkah—however you opt to spell and pronounce it!) is almost here, which means the time to grab last-minute gifts for yourself or someone else is…right now. (Insert joke about Chanukah miracles, et cetera.) Thankfully, it’s a great time in YA for Jewish fiction that makes the perfect gift, and whether you’re handing over an actual wrapped book or a card that says “You are going to love me as soon as this preorder ships,” we’ve taken care of your shopping list with one title for each day of the holiday!
You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Solomon goes for the emotional jugular in her debut, about eighteen-year-old twin sisters who already have little in common other than their ambitions being endangered by the results of the most important test they’ll ever take: the one that will reveal whether they’ll share their Israeli mother’s Huntington’s diagnosis. When it turns out one of them does, it drives a wedge between them from which they may never recover as they each go about coping with the news and their futures, loves, lives, and Jewish observance and faith in their own ways. (Another option? Preorder Solomon’s excellent sophomore, Our Year of Maybe, which also features two Jewish main characters and releases in January!)
The Spy With the Red Balloon, by Katherine Locke
The Girl With the Red Balloon won a Sydney Taylor Honor for Teen Readers, and although these two books can be read independently, you can’t go wrong with either one and you definitely can’t go wrong with the set. In the newer Spy, there are siblings at the heart of the WWII-set story, discovered for their ability to work blood magic and blackmailed by the government into service. Now brilliant and curious Ilse is in Oak Ridge, working on the American Nuclear Program, while shy, smitten, and quietly brave Wolf is off to Europe to sabotage Germany’s. But when his plan is shot down, and their magical correspondence threatens to look like treason, they must find their way back to each other before everything goes to hell.
The Truth About Leaving, by Natalie Blitt
Lucy is fresh off two different breakups: a more traditional one with her boyfriend, Scott, and a physical one, in which her mother leaves their family in Chicago to pursue a career opportunity in Berkeley. Both required Lucy to give up pieces of herself, from her love of dance to the free time she has now ceded to babysitting her little brothers, but when a new kid named Dov transfers to her small school for senior year, he gives her a little piece back, and even finds a few she never knew were absent. The two are assigned to work together on a poetry assignment, and as they bond over the lyrical language of Yehuda Amichai and e.e. cummings, they also learn there’s still joy out there for them both. But how real can it get and how long can it last when Dov is headed back to Israel next year to begin mandatory army service? This contemporary romance is a great choice for teens who already have or who want a special connection to Israel, or just readers who love reading about swoony love!
You Asked for Perfect, by Laura Silverman
Life for Ariel is a balancing act in Silverman’s spot-on sophomore novel—one that doesn’t have room for one more thing in addition to family time (including Shabbat dinner), going for first chair in the violin, keeping up his valedictorian-bound GPA, and being there for the best friend who has always been there for him. But when each facet of his life becomes increasingly demanding, Ariel worries he’s reaching his breaking point. And when he takes on tutoring Amir as a solution to his academic woes, it might be one responsibility too many. But what do you do when the person who makes you happiest might also be what makes everything else fall apart?
A Room Away From the Wolves, by Nova Ren Suma
Suma’s brand of brilliant, haunting creepiness swirled with feminism is right on target in her newest, about a Jewish girl named Bina whose life and relationship with her mother—a relationship she’d once thought ironclad—are thrown into upheaval by a stepfamily that despises her. Years later, Bina can’t take it anymore, and flees to Greenwich Village’s Catherine House, a dark and mysterious home for girls in which her own mother took refuge once upon a time. There, Bina meets other girls in similarly rocky situations, and learns there’s far more to Catherine House and its complicated and restrictive rules than she imagined.
In the Neighborhood of True, by Susan Kaplan Carlton
Order now as a Chanukah present and get it in time to have the perfect new read for Passover! In this historical set in 1958 Atlanta, Ruth experiences major culture shock: her mother uproots her family from New York to Atlanta after the loss of Ruth’s father, moving them in with her grandparents. Having converted to Judaism after leaving Atlanta, Ruth’s mother is still best known in the city as a beauty queen, and Ruth takes advantage of that fact to hide her own Judaism—including her mom-mandated synagogue attendance—from her new friends and boyfriend. But when a bomb rocks her temple, and she’s the only one who might be willing and able to point to the suspect, she’ll have to choose between her happy new life of lies and the truth that acknowledges her faith.
The Sisters of the Winter Wood, by Rena Rossner
Shopping for a Jewish fantasy fan? This debut set in a small village on the Moldovan-Ukrainian border will definitely hit the spot. When Liba and Laya’s parents are summoned away just after the girls learn their mother and father are shapeshifters—an ability that will be passed down to them—it’s just the beginning of unsettling troubles coming their way. In a nod to the pogroms, the Jewish population is blamed when townspeople are found dead, and as increasingly strange things happen, salvation may rest on one sister’s shoulders, if she can learn to embrace her genetic bearlike nature.
The Radical Element, ed. by Jessica Spotswood
While this anthology consists of a variety of American girl experiences throughout the history of this country, its opener is all about the Jews, starring a girl named Rebekah who’s fighting against convention in 1838 Savannah with the dream of receiving the same kind of education the boys do. (Fun fact: I am the author of that story. It’s called “Daughter of the Book.” It contains more Hebrew than I ever imagined being allowed to put in a YA.) But it’s relevance doesn’t stop there, because themes of religious persecution in the second story, an examination of early Mormon life by Mackenzi Lee, should resonate with anyone who’s familiar with the story behind the Festival of Lights. Get yourself a new story for every night of the holiday and then some!
Want even more titles to choose from? Grab an older favorite like Playing With Matches, by Suri Rosen; Starglass, by Phoebe North; Never Mind the Goldbergs, by Matthue Roth; The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli; or Gena/Finn, by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson!