Friday, October 3, 2014

Testing Boundaries

Una LaMarche

In Like No Other, Una LaMarche lets readers inside the traditionally private Chabad-Lubavitch community for a rare view of its traditions. Readers enter through the experience of 16-year-old Devorah Blum, whose chance encounter with Jaxon, an African-American young man her age, prompts her to question some of those traditions. Brooklyn's Eastern Parkway marks the boundary between their two communities, but they meet in the hospital that serves them both when the elevator breaks down.

Devorah would never, under normal circumstances, be with a boy her age unchaperoned, let alone a boy outside of her community. They talk about their families, music, and through their alternating first-person narratives, readers watch their mutual attraction develop.

LaMarche reveals the complexity of the mores behind the Chabad-Lubavitch way of life. Devorah jokes that yichud (the rule against two members of the opposite sex alone together) stems from the belief, "Plop two teenagers in a confined space, let them get to talking, and sooner or later the conversation will go to a sinful place..." Yet their attraction bears this out. These rules are rooted in life experience. 

But when does Devorah get to test these boundaries for herself and gain her own life experiences? She's smart and curious and willing to take responsibility for her actions. The author, without didacticism, explores the territory between faith and doubt, fate and free will. Can one's faith strengthen without doubt? Can one respect boundaries without testing them? These are all questions that teens innately raise for themselves, and LaMarche's romance about two 16-year-olds curious about and attracted to each other, gives teens an apparatus for examining these questions for themselves.

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