THE BOY’S OWN MANUAL TO BEING A PROPER JEW is a nice quick read. Aussie YA deserves credit for many things, but like all other youth literature communities we’re still working on making our YA lit sections of bookstores as varied and diverse and multifaceted as our YA readers and writers. It’s interesting to note how few and far between even within all our fiction, are stories dealing with faith and queerness in a thoughtful and in-depth way.
It’s been a topic of discussion in the YA writer’s world for a while that the way queer characters are being written is changing for the better. Mainly because ‘coming out’ stories aren’t so prevalent, and more and more we’re actually reading queer characters for whom being queer is not the most interesting thing about them, their stories don’t revolve around this – it’s just one facet of who they are.
Yet, it is this intersection of faith and sexuality that makes THE BOY’S OWN MANUAL TO BEING A PROPER JEW stand out among the usual malaise of ‘coming out’ stories. It deals with two seemingly ‘warring’identities from a new and honest perspective.
What I first off really loved was the sense of community that comes through the book. It’s a story set in Melbourne, specifically in Caulfield, a suburb with an undeniably strong Jewish culture and society, a sense of community reminiscent of the CHEERS bar, a place where everyone knows your name.
Glasman writes a lot of little details about main protag Yossi’s community and culture that sharpen not only the setting of the work but Jewish sects and culture at large. Details like Yossi’s family being part of the Lubavitch sect, their synagogue being an exact replica of leader Lubavitcher Rebbe’s synagogue in New York.
Glasman through his prose and this story lets us readers intimately in on Judaism, doing a very adept job of bringing us into a world that many won’t be familiar with. He doesn’t write Yossi’s life like a theology lesson, but rather lets us in on the less familiar terms and traditions of Judaism, like how you’re not allowed to sit on the same level as a siddur, a prayer book, there are certain ways to wash dishes, certain times where technology can’t be used. Though this (particularly in the beginning of the story) can be a bit didactic in the beginning, Glasman moves along forward with the story smoothly, immersing us deeper with these characters that feel very authentic and moving in their troubles.
On the whole, I enjoyed this book, finished it in a day. The ending felt incredibly abrupt though, and Josh's character basically disappeared in the last thirty or so pages, as though he'd served his purpose in helping Yossi accept his sexuality, and therefore he wasn't needed any more. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, but still the emotionality of the ending between Yossi his sister and his father was still rather moving.
There was this great element to the book that I enjoyed; with Yossi being able to accept his homosexuality alongside his faith Glasman showed a teenager who was not only incredibly insightful and perceptive, but also one who thought critically and independently of himself and others, instead of letting school, religion and family do the thinking for him.
THE BOY’S OWN MANUAL TO BEING A PROPER JEW is in fact a coming out story, but it is one that was desperately needed in the YA lit scene. A great Aussie debute and addition to the growing collection of stories that reflect Australia’s intersectional and diverse people. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a long line of novels that depict teens questioning their queerness alongside their religious faith.