Tally and her twin brother, Max, visit Israel on a temple exchange trip loosely modeled after the author's own experience with Birthright. Max has been depressed since last summer, when he was in a car accident that injured him and killed a friend, and this trip is Tally's plan to force Max back into the world and make him happy again. As they travel around the country, Tally grapples with her place in the Jewish diaspora, her sexual identity, her relationship with her brother, and her own mental health. I love this book's nuanced exploration of the many different ways there are to be Jewish, and know many readers will see themselves reflected in Tally's anxiety over whether or not she's "Jewish enough." If you're one of the many people who, upon learning the setting of this book, immediately jumped to the conclusion that it's anti-Palestine, I'd challenge you to examine your own reaction. Would you expect any book set in America to directly address issues of racism, police brutality, anti-abortion law, or other controversial political topics? To quote another reviewer, Jane Kohuth, "criticism of Israel is not antisemitism...but rejecting an author writing about her own Jewish experience definitely is." For what it's worth, this book does discuss the Israel/Palestine conflict, as thoroughly as could be expected in a novel whose plot is not dependent on politics. There are many incidents where Tally notices and pushes back against racism, problematic microaggressions, or political propaganda. Since she's an American, and a child, who is learning about these issues for the first time, these moments are less about her own opinions and more about her observing, listening, and learning from those more informed than she. — Nadja Tiktinsky
A moving YA debut about a girl who grapples with questions of her Jewish identity, mental health struggles, and sexuality while on a temple exchange trip through Israel.
When high school senior Tally and her twin brother Max head off on an exchange trip to Israel over their winter break, Tally thinks it will be a good distraction for Max; he might be trying to hide it, but she knows he's still struggling in the wake of a car crash that injured him and killed the driver. Maybe this will help him get back on track and apply to college the way he and Tally always planned.
But as the group travels across the country, Tally realizes her plan might not be working, and that her brother might not be the only one with a lot on his mind. When a new relationship gets complicated in the face of her own anxiety-about her future, her sexual and romantic identity, and her place within the Jewish diaspora-Tally must grapple not only with the past, but also with what life will be like when they get back home.
Debut author Haley Neil offers a relatable and deeply felt story about identity on the cusp of adulthood.
Haley Neil is a recent MFA grad from The New School, where she specialized in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She previously obtained her Masters in Education while working full time as a preschool teacher. She loves school, teaching, and going to school to learn about teaching (as well as walking her rescue pup through her Massachusetts town and pretending she's on a home baking show). This is her first book.