Once More With Chutzpah review: Representation Matters

Posted February 28, 2022 by geograph in review / 1 Comment

Once More with Chutzpah cover
Once More with Chutzpah cover
352 pages, published Feb 1st, 2022

Thanks to NetGalley for the audiobook at no cost to me ahead of release time!

I read this book via audiobook, and the narrator was solidly mediocre — I’m certainly not an expert, but there’s some weird pronunciation of Hebrew words in here. Perhaps a pronunciation guide would be helpful next time? (I also only learned from another reviewer that a character’s name is actually Chaya, but the narrator pronounces it Kaya, which is Quite Incorrect.)

This book got a lot of flak before it was published (on Feb 1st, 2022) because it is about people going to Israel on a pseudo-Birthright trip. It’s not Actually A Birthright Trip, which is made very clear in the novel, it’s just a regular temple-sponsored trip to Israel. The main character isn’t sure if she’s Jewish Enough, which, Big Mood, All The Time. They talk about Birthright trips as well, and make it clear that these two trips are Separate Things. Which, suspension of disbelief aside, I believe this was originally written and marketed as a Birthright Trip Book until there was serious backlash online and it was hastily rewritten and there were some little “history” lessons dropped into it. It’s not a book About Palestine/Israel, it just happens to be set in Palestine(Israel). Sure, Jan.

Still, I think it is kind of weird and unnerving to have a book set in Israel without acknowledging why there is conflict in Israel, just that there is. It’s briefly mentioned that there Is Conflict and the general vibe is that it is so sad and so upsetting that Palestinians are so poor and so maligned. It’s not really discussed why Israel is important to Jewish people or Judaism as a whole either, and I just think that maybe if you’re going to write this book at all you could at least talk about it?

Tally herself is Very Extremely Eighteen and Very Sheltered and also very protective of her brother Max, which, like, trauma, sure. But it’s kind of exhausting to deal with over the course of the book, and also Max seems to be doing Okay. It’s very voice-y — lots of comparisons have been made to Becky Albertalli etc, and I wouldn’t say that those comparisons are incorrect. I just think that like, Becky Albertalli is better at it. It reads really young, to the point where this feels like a middle grade novel over a YA, which doesn’t match the age of the characters. (Which is fine! It just is not marketed as a middle grade).

I’m normally very into pop culture references, but Broadway never hits for me because I’m just not that into it. So that’s a big miss on my end.

There’s lesbian, gay, and asexual representation, which is very? Whatever? to me? Representation matters, for sure, but also the main content of a book matters as well. It’s no longer 2015 and I am not reading books exclusively for a background character who is hinted at maybe being gay. The main character is demisexual, and I feel…. unimpressed about it. It’s handled well, in a vacuum of Just Demisexuality, which is fine, but again — representation matters, and this is representation of a Jewish demisexual person who does not educate herself about Palestine while in Palestine, actively benefiting from Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Looking for good asexual rep? I would recommend Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman, or Six Angry Girls by Adrienne Kisner instead. I’ve also heard very good things about Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger.

For other Jewish books that I’ve enjoyed or am looking forward to, there’s Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler, You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman, and The Two Wrong Halves of Ruby Taylor by Amanda Panitch. Also a book of short stories that I own but have not read, It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories edited by Katherine Locke.

Confused about Israeli/Palestinian conflict? Here’s an article from Jewish Voice for Peace as a primer.

I am rating this audiobook one star for its representation of demisexuality and secular Jewish representation. I want to be clear that these were positive aspects of the book; everything else about the book would have otherwise brought it down to half a star or less. I am not linking to Storygraph or Bookshop for this book; other books mentioned in this review do have Storygraph links. Thank you.

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