Lauren Yanofsky Hates The Holocaust: What to do when the boy you like wears a Nazi armband sometimes
Lieberman, Leanne. Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust. (Orca: 2013), 227 pages.
Themes: Friendship, loss of friends, traumatic events, love, Jewishness, Judaism.
Lauren Yanofsky not only hates the Holocaust, reading about it too much when she was younger gave her panic attacks. Too bad that her father is a Holocaust scholar, and as far as she can tell, it’s the defining experience of being Jewish, so much so that Lauren herself has made a commitment not to be Jewish any more.
This has resulted in her flat-out refusing to go to Jewish high school, or attend the after-school youth group at her temple, much to the frustration of her parents. But thanks to a hunger strike on her behalf, Lauren has been allowed to attend the public high school along with her three gentile friends, whom she has dubbed the Perfects.
However, the start of her 11th year is starting to show the breakup of her little clique: there’s a tension now between Lauren and her best friend Brooke when cute boy Jesse starts to show interest in her, and Brooke has started hanging out with the Smoker girls instead. Her other friends Chloe and Em seem mostly interested in their Christian Bible study group and the high school’s production of Grease. Then, hanging out one night at a local park when all four of them managed to get together, Lauren spots some teen boys (including Jesse) playing soldiers…complete with Nazi armbands.
Barely fighting back the return of her panic attacks, Lauren is confused as to what she needs to do and frustrated than none of her non-Jewish friends get why the experience was so bothersome for her. Will she turn the boys in? Will she ever be able to think about the Holocaust or think of herself as Jewish without being troubled? And can she date Jesse even if he did something so stupid?
This book deals with a lot of different subplots for such a short book. As well as trying to figure out what to do about the Nazi war games, being confused about the breakup of her friends group, her struggles with her Jewishness, and her attraction to Jesse, the book also dips into her brother Zach’s upcoming bar mitzvah, Lauren’s discovery of other genocides (such as the Armenian Genocide) and speculation on why the Holocaust is well known but these other massacres aren’t, and her struggles with her parents who don’t understand her pulling away from Jewish society. Some of these subplots get less focus however (it’s not until the second to last chapter before anyone attempts to answer Lauren’s challenge that Jewishness seemed to just revolve around glorifying attempts to obliterate the Jews), meaning that the book is somewhat disappointing in that regard. A lack of emphasis on fellow Jewish teens (the only one who appears is a friend of Lauren’s who moved away and with whom Lauren occasionally text messages) also leaves the impression that all Jewish teens are shallow and self-absorbed, given that’s how Lauren seems to see things.
Lieberman however does well to capture Lauren’s emotions and thought processes (which, given that Lauren does and thinks some rather stupid things, may not necessarily be a good thing). The voice is very authentic, and Lauren and her friends seem like real teenagers. The plot does flow along quickly as well, meaning that the book is a quick and enjoyable read.
While this book is not the best YA novel for Jewish teens, it certainly brings up some interesting ideas, and while it doesn’t fully explore them it certainly deserves some credit for being willing to explore them. This may not be a book to restore Jewish teens’ faith in Jewishness, but it is one that thoughtful teens might be interested in exploring. All in all, a book worth reading if encountered.
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