You may be thinking: Why would I be interested in young adult literature? I’m a grown woman. I don’t need to be reading the same things as a 16-year-old girl. May I suggest that you reread the Judy Blume classic Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself? Crushes, movie stars, the embarrassments of adolescence — all still very relatable in our 20s and 30s.
Seriously, though, there has been a major resurgence of adult interest in YA literature in the past few years, and for good reason: YA lit is inclusive, addictive, and often crosses genres as well as age categories. And Judy Blume isn’t the only author doing Jewish women justice. Check out the list below for portrayals of young Jewish women like yourself in various time periods and genres of literature. I guarantee there’s something here for you.
1. You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Eighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah are each prodigies in their own right: Adina strives to become a violin soloist, while Tovah is into science and plans to become a surgeon. What they have in common besides their ambition is their genetic predisposition to Huntington’s disease and their fear of its ability to steal their body and mind the way it has from their mother, slowly but surely. The test results come in, and one twin tests positive, while the other tests negative. This book is perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult and Alice Genova.
2. Black, White and Jewish by Rebecca Walker
This autobiography by the daughter of Alice Walker (of The Color Purple fame) explores what it was like for her growing up mixed-race and Jewish in Civil Rights-era America, split between homes in urban San Francisco and suburban (Jewish) New York after her parents’ divorce. It’s a quick read and engagingly written, great for fans of The Glass Castle or similar autobiographies.
3. The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
If you (like me) loved the American Girl books or the All-of-a-Kind Family series growing up, The Hired Girl is for you. It follows the narrator Joan’s path from her sheltered life with her family to her experiences as hired help on a farm in Pennsylvania and a well-to-do household in Maryland. Based on the author’s grandmother’s diary, this book received literary praise, including the Sydney Taylor Book Award, named for the author of All-of-a-Kind Family and given to outstanding teen and children’s books with authentic portrayals of the Jewish experience.
4. The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke
Perfect for fans of Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic, this novel explores what happens when a girl named Ellie stumbles upon a mysterious red balloon and accidentally time-travels back to 1988 East Berlin. The story is told from multiple points of view, including a Romani boy named Kai in 1988 and a Jewish boy named Benno in the 1940s. Magic is involved and the story will keep you guessing until the very end.
5. Stolen Secrets by LB Schulman
This multilayered novel follows 16-year-old Livvy, whose mom moves the family across the country to take care of her grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s. Some of the memories her grandmother is losing have to do with having been in a concentration camp when she was younger, and the book delicately examines what it’s like to be living in a society where Holocaust survivors are aging out or being forgotten. The novel also tackles topics of alcoholism and family estrangement and is a must-read for any fans of YA realistic fiction.
6. Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert
The main character in this novel, Suzette, is both bisexual and Jewish. She also happens to be black, but the main point of the story is her relationship with Lionel, her brother who’s struggling with bipolar disorder, and her increasing responsibility for him once she moves back from boarding school to LA for the summer. She is also grappling with an attraction to the same girl that he likes, along with a newfound attraction to a childhood bestie. The intersectionality and emotional honesty in this book are unmatched, and anyone looking for a realistic portrayal of mental illness and well-developed characters will enjoy this book.
7. Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Ari Folman and Anne Frank
The Diary of Anne Frank is a classic for any young Jewish girl, and this is the definitive text-to-graphic novel adaptation — it’s even authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation. As fans of the graphic novel adaptation Speak know, a successful adaptation can enhance and add layers of meaning to the original, so I have high hopes for this one. It’s out October 2, so add it to your library holds list or Amazon pre-orders now.
8. Saving Red by Sonya Sones
Fans of Ellen Hopkins’ verse novels (Crank, Blow) will find the format of Saving Red appeals to their interests: Written entirely in short, poetic lines, this novel by Sonya Sones explores issues of mental illness. Fourteen-year-old Molly meets Red, who is homeless and suffers from schizoaffective disorder, and is determined to help her; Molly herself has anxiety and uses a service dog. The two are more alike than they realize at first, and Sones is effective at portraying mental illness in a human way using beautiful imagery.