Book Review

Unorthodox Love By Heidi Shertok

Unorthodox Love

  • Author: Heidi Shertok
  • Genre: Romance
  • Publication Date: July 11, 2023
  • Publisher: Alcove Press

Thank you to NetGalley and Alcove Press for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: infertility, homophobia, blood

Perfect for fans of Ali Hazelwood and Sophie Kinsella, Heidi Shertok’s delightful debut about love and family will tug on your heartstrings.

Twenty-nine-year-old Penina longs for true love and marriage, but being infertile in the Orthodox Jewish community means she’s rarely matched with the cream of the crop—or even skim milk two weeks past its expiration date. Matchmakers either set her up with men twice her age or those with serious mommy issues. At this point, she might as well wear a sign around her neck that says “professional virgin.”

As if things weren’t bad enough, her sister Libby then shares a terrible secret: her husband’s failed businesses have already put strain on their marriage, and now they might also lose their family home. Penina is desperate to help, so when a secretly gay Orthodox Jew offers a payout in exchange for a fake marriage, it feels like kismet. Who needs true love anyway?

Enter Sam Kleinfeld. Rude, secular, undeniably sexy, and also…Penina’s new boss. The last thing he wants is a relationship, especially not with a beautiful, smart-mouthed employee. But soon an attraction builds that they both can’t ignore. Will Penina follow her heart and find true love, or will she stick to the traditions she knows best?

I was so, so excited to hear about this book, then again to get approved for this ARC, and all over again when I started reading it. And within a chapter, I knew that I was going to love it. 

Penina is a great character. She’s funny, hip, and just awkward enough to make her relatable. This is the first time I’ve seen an Orthodox woman featured as a main character in a romance, and it was a nice change. Penina works at a jewelry shop, but also helps out with her family, volunteers with preemies at the NICU, and maintains an Instagram account focused on modest, budget-friendly, and fashionable attire. 

Penina’s Jewish identity plays a big role in the story. I liked hearing her talk about how her adherence to faith sometimes conflicts with her modern lifestyle, yet she prioritizes her faith and finds ways to work around any issues. Except a couple which are beyond her control—a medical condition and her status in the Orthodox marriage hierarchy. Because while this book shares so much of the joys that Penina finds in being an Orthodox Jew, it also talks about one of the major negative sides that people outside the community can’t see. Both of these issues happen to be related to the same thing, and that is infertility.

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time around an Orthodox gathering, you’re bound to notice a bunch of children. Because having children is especially important to Orthodox Jews, which lends additional weight to Penina’s struggle with infertility. It also explains why she views herself as damaged or broken, why she hasn’t found a decent (or even vaguely acceptable) match in her ten years of dating, and why she winds up in this situation. Being in a community where you can usually find someone who is pregnant or has a baby with them can’t be easy when all you want is a baby and know you can’t have one, and Penina also explains the complex rules surrounding adoption. This quote really stood out to me:

“Sometimes, the yearning to be a mother is so strong, that it literally steals my breath away and I have to remind myself to breathe. I keep telling myself that it’ll get easier with time, that this ache in my chest will eventually stop hurting, that there will come a day when I’ll see a pregnant woman and not feel envy, but deep down I know the truth: no matter how many years or decades pass, it won’t get easier. I’ll never make peace with the fact that I couldn’t be a mother.”

While the romance was relatively predictable, I still really loved this story. The comedy had me laughing, and I loved Penina’s character right from the start. She’s hilarious and just a little snarky, while her sisters step in with some very different personalities and comedic timing, and the pacing was perfect. This is a great story, and I recommend it for everyone.

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