Book Review

It’s A Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, And Other Jewish Stories

It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories

  • Author: Various, Edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman
  • Genre: YA Contemporary
  • Publication Date: September 17, 2019
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers 

CONTENT WARNING: eating disorder

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Fall in love, experience heartbreak, and discover the meaning of identity in this collection of short stories about Jewish teens, including a special forward by actress and New York Times bestselling author Mayim Bialik!

A Jewish boy falls in love with a fellow counselor at summer camp. A group of Jewish friends takes the trip of a lifetime. A girl meets her new boyfriend’s family over Shabbat dinner. Two best friends put their friendship to the test over the course of a Friday night. A Jewish girl feels pressure to date the only Jewish boy in her grade. A crush’s Hanukkah party goes awry when hilarious pranks and disaster ensues.

From stories of confronting their relationships with Judaism to rom-coms with a side of bagels and lox, It’s a Whole Spiel is an insightful and funny Jewish anthology from a collection of diverse Jewish authors. One story after another of yes, we are Jewish, and we are also queer, and disabled, and creative, and political, and adventurous, and most of all, compassionate.

This book has come up so many times on Jewish bookstagram, but I hadn’t gotten around to it until now. And I’m so glad that I finally read it. It’s a collection of short stories from various Jewish authors — some of whom I’ve heard of (like Laura Silverman, David Levithan, Dahlia Adler, and Rachel Lynn Solomon), but a lot more who are new to me. And all of the stories were so interesting in different ways!

This whole book was incredibly meaningful to me, and the foreword by Mayim Bialik was done really well. She explores what it means to grow up Jewish, and how we each come to terms with the same religion in our own, unique way. But this line really stood out to me:

“Judaism is not about choosing things you always agree with in your religion and agreeing with them. Judaism is about seeing the world for what it is and being part of a community that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

I loved how each of the authors brought their own unique spin on a Jewish story. The stories were all so different, even though some themes came up often — finding a place in the world, feeling “not Jewish enough,” feeling “other” as a tiny minority in a Christian-oriented society, and learning how to find a way to connect with our peers, finding the similarities between ourselves, rather than focusing on the differences. Many of the characters in these stories don’t fit into the expected boxes. They are queer, non-practicing, patrilineal, struggling with anxiety or OCD, highly assimilated, Orthodox, somehow outside the norm of “typical” society. 

Watching their journey was awesome, and in these short stories, the authors somehow managed to squeeze in a journey. I often found myself disappointed that the story ended when I flipped the page, and wishing that there was more. But I think that’s my biggest problem when reading short stories — I want more and that’s just not how short stories work. I’d be curious to see more of the story. 

Books like these are so important to have, and it’s a beautiful thing to see more of these being put out. I can’t help but think that seeing ourselves reflected on the pages of a book is a comforting and reassuring thing. It’s knowing that we aren’t the only one who feels that we “aren’t Jewish enough,” or might be “too Jewish.” It’s helpful to know that others face these same thoughts and can open up a discussion. This is a wonderful book for all people, whether you’re Jewish or not, and it gives just a tiny peek into the world of Judaism and the incredibly diverse people who belong to the tribe.

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