Book Review

Once More With Chutzpah

Once More With Chutzpah

  • Author: Haley Neil
  • Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
  • Publication Date: February 1, 2022
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury YA for providing me with a copy of this book. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: anxiety, mention of death, grief, discussion of the Holocaust/antisemitism/prejudice/racism, panic attack, mention of homophobia

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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.

This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2022, and it didn’t disappoint. It turned out to be even better than I expected, which was impressive, because I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback about it and the bar was already set pretty high. 

It centers around Tally, who struggles with anxiety and is trying to help her brother manage his issues surrounding a car crash in which the driver was killed and he was hurt. She’s easy to like, and I felt that her anxiety was depicted incredibly well. She uses a variety of coping skills to manage it. 

Another thing that really stood out to me was the amazing diversity in this OwnVoices book — it portrays the incredible diversity in the Jewish community, and the difficulty that can come with finding one’s own place in the community. Tally mentions “not feeling Jewish enough” a few times throughout the book, as she works to find her footing as a patrilineal and interfaith Jew. On this trip she encounters people who are more religious, more or less knowledgeable, as well as diverse Jews. I love that there was inclusion of Mizrahi Jews, Beta Israel Jews, and LGBTQIA Jews. 

Tally originally decides to go on the trip as a way to “fix” her brother, but has some major realizations of her own. I loved following her own journey, as she learns so much about herself. She gets to learn more about how she views her Jewishness, starts to understand her own sexuality, and has some major breakthroughs about her mental health, all while changing how she interacts with not just her brother, but other people as well. I love how Neil juxtaposed an actual journey that Tally took with her journey of self-discovery.

The trip that the tour group took was so vividly described that I could accurately picture it. It wound up bringing back my own visit to Israel, and the depictions in the book matched up perfectly to my own memories. She described Israel so clearly that it almost felt like I was right there with everyone on the trip. I loved the way it was written and it made me feel incredibly nostalgic. And while the area is home to a conflict, Neil touched upon it in a sensitive and nuanced way. 

Overall, I absolutely loved this book and how it was done. The characters are easy to relate to and well-rounded. The plot is engaging and it’s a quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed. This is definitely a book that I’m going to be recommending to everyone.

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