8 YA Books with Jewish Characters (That Aren’t About the Holocaust)

8 ya books with jewish characters

Since Hanukkah starts tomorrow (Happy Hanukkah to anyone who celebrates!) and I’ve been talking about Christmas for weeks now, I wanted to put together a post for my Jewish followers. Originally I wanted to find books with Jewish main characters that had something to do with Hanukkah, but, um, that was ridiculously hard. As in, I couldn’t find any. I even had a hard time just looking for Jewish main characters. While trying to put together this post, I realized that YA is severely lacking in Jewish characters unless it’s about the Holocaust which is definitely not what I wanted to include in my post. Anyway, I ended up asking Twitter for recommendations of YA books that have major characters who are Jewish. It’s not much of a “Hanukkah” post anymore, but I still wanted to post it, especially after seeing how rare Jewish characters in YA are. Here are 8 books that were recommended to me. I haven’t read any of these, but I definitely plan on it! They aren’t all necessarily stories about being Jewish, but they all have Jewish characters. Without further ado, here are 8 YA books with major characters who are Jewish.

Playing with Matches by Suri Rosen

playing with matches by suri rosen book coverA cross between Jane Austen’s Emma, Dear Abby, and Yenta the matchmaker!

When 16-year-old Raina Resnick is expelled from her Manhattan private school, she’s sent to live with her strict aunt-but Raina feels like she’s persona non grata no matter where she goes. Her sister, Leah, blames her for her broken engagement, and she’s a social pariah at her new school. In the tight-knit Jewish community, Raina finds she is good at one thing: matchmaking! As the anonymous “MatchMaven,” Raina sets up hopeless singles desperate to find the One.

Can she find the perfect match for her sister and get back on her good side, or will her secret life catch up with her?

In this debut novel, Suri Rosen creates a comic and heartwarming story of one girl trying to find happiness for others, and redemption for herself.

Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw

scarlett epstein hates it here by anna breslaw book coverMeet Scarlett Epstein, BNF (Big Name Fan) in her online community of fanfiction writers, world-class nobody at Melville High. Her best (read: only) IRL friends are Avery, a painfully shy and annoyingly attractive bookworm, and Ruth, her weed-smoking, possibly insane seventy-three-year-old neighbor.

When Scarlett’s beloved TV show is canceled and her longtime crush, Gideon, is sucked out of her orbit and into the dark and distant world of Populars, Scarlett turns to the fanfic message boards for comfort. This time, though, her subjects aren’t the swoon-worthy stars of her fave series—they’re the real-life kids from her high school. And if they ever find out what Scarlett truly thinks about them, she’ll be thrust into a situation far more dramatic than anything she’s ever seen on TV…

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

simon vs. the homo sapiens agenda by becky albertalli book coverSixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

My Year Zero by Rachel Gold

26029184Lauren thinks she has a pretty good life—so why is it that she feels crazy most of the time? She figures it’s nothing she can’t fix by getting her first girlfriend and doing better at school. But how is she ever going to find a girlfriend in Duluth, Minnesota?

When she meets a group of kids who are telling a science fiction story online and gets invited down to the Twin Cities, she gets more attention than she ever expected, from two very different girls: charming Sierra and troublesome Blake.

Blake helps Lauren understand that she’s not the crazy one in her life. But Blake’s attention—and insights into life and living with bipolar disorder—threaten to destroy everything Lauren has created for herself, including her relationship with Sierra.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg

i never promised you a rose garden by joanne greenbergI Never Promised You a Rose Garden is the story of a sixteen-year-old who retreats from reality into the bondage of a lushly imagined but threatening kingdom, and her slow and painful journey back to sanity.

Chronicles the three-year battle of a mentally ill, but perceptive, teenage girl against a world of her own creation, emphasizing her relationship with the doctor who gave her the ammunition of self-understanding with which to help herself.





Deadly by Julie Chibbaro

7939963A mysterious outbreak of typhoid fever is sweeping New York.

Could the city’s future rest with its most unlikely scientist?

If Prudence Galewski is ever going to get out of Mrs. Browning’s esteemed School for Girls, she must demonstrate her refinement and charm by securing a job appropriate for a young lady. But Prudence isn’t like the other girls. She is fascinated by how the human body works and why it fails.

With a stroke of luck, she lands a position in a laboratory, where she is swept into an investigation of the fever bound to change medical history. Prudence quickly learns that an inquiry of this proportion is not confined to the lab. From ritzy mansions to shady bars and rundown tenements, she explores every potential cause of the disease. But there’s no answer in sight—until the volatile Mary Mallon emerges. Dubbed “Typhoid Mary” by the press, Mary is an Irish immigrant who has worked as a cook in every home the fever has ravaged. Strangely, though, she hasn’t been sick a day in her life. Is the accusation against her an act of discrimination? Or is she the first clue in a new scientific discovery?

Prudence is determined to find out. In a time when science is for men, she’ll have to prove to the city, and to herself, that she can help solve one of the greatest medical mysteries of the twentieth century.

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

tell me again how a crush should feel by sara farizan book coverHigh-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.

Flying Without a Net by E.M. Ben Shaul

30124943Dani Perez, a secular Israeli working as a software engineer in Boston, has never had trouble balancing his faith and his sexuality—until he meets Avi Levine, a gay Orthodox Jew and sign language interpreter. As they fall in love, Dani finds himself wanting Avi in his life but confused by Avi’s observance. Dani can’t understand how Avi reconciles what his religion demands with what his body desires. And although he wants to deny it, neither can Avi.

Despite the risk of losing Avi forever to a religious life that objects to their love, Dani supports him through the struggle to find an answer. Will they be able to start a life together despite religious ideology that conflicts with the relationship they are trying to build?

Have you read any of these? What other YA books would you recommend that have Jewish characters?

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21 thoughts on “8 YA Books with Jewish Characters (That Aren’t About the Holocaust)

    • Yup, when it was recommended to me, they said the love interest was Jewish. I honestly had no clue there was a Jewish character until they told me, haha. But I know the author is Jewish, so I wasn’t that surprised. I haven’t read any of these yet but I have Simon vs. and I’m hoping to read it at some point in 2017, especially since I know a lot of people love that book. I think YA lacks religious characters in general, but there definitely should be more on-page Jewish characters. I think even if it isn’t stated that someone is Christian, that’s kind of the default assumption for a lot of readers so it’s nice to have it explicitly stated that a character is Jewish, Muslim, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Haven’t come across or read any of these but I think another YA Jewish character is Simon Lewis from The Mortal Instruments. I’ve not read it for a while but I remember there being some comments when he received the mark of Cain and after he became a vampire.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for this post! I am Jewish and I have been having some trouble finding contemporary books about my culture that are not about the Holocaust, and I will definitely take this list into consideration when I choose my books! The timing of this post was pretty funny, as I was LITERALLY searching for a list like this last night, haha😂 . You’ve just made me even more excited to read Simon vs. The Homosapiens Agenda, too!☺️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ahhh, great list, Kourtni! I’ve read Simon vs, Scarlett Epstein, and Tell Me Again, but sadly I only liked Simon vs – Scarlett really annoyed me in her book and I really disliked the writing in Tell Me Again, haha. But these are some great picks, and I love the sound of Playing with Matches. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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