Book Review: Jewbilly
Reviewed by Joe Walters
A wild ride well worth taking
Yosef Bamberger is a riotous, daring, gutsy young man who enjoys his Orthodox Jewish life in Brooklyn, New York. His Bar Mitzvah is just over a year away, and he’s got just about the best friends he could ask for.
But on the night of his twelfth birthday, his father reveals that he’s been lying—and that they all have to move to Tennessee. Needless to say, he and his big Jewish family—his sisters, parents, and grandparents—are about to find their way to some really big changes.
With his move south, Yosef embarks on a two-year extravaganza of new experiences, good and bad: weed, LSD, murder investigating, teenage hormones, reading the Bible behind his Orthodox family’s back.
There is a lot to gush about with Jewbilly. Perhaps at the top of my list is Yosef’s desire to experiment with his religion. Yosef’s ideas and actions could feel refreshing for young readers who are curious about their spirituality. This theme really communicates the good in learning about other people’s beliefs, and the subtlety in which the topic is tackled feels inviting, honest, and never over the top.
Yosef’s voice is particularly immersive, proving to be an excellent companion on our teenage tour through the 1970s. And it doesn’t hurt that this plot is filled with incidents, happenings, complications, twists, turns—you name it. Something happens in every chapter, and each character comes with baggage worth paying attention to.
This novel seeks honesty when depicting young characters. It reaches beyond the limitations of the age category of a 12-year-old protagonist by having them curse, do drugs, and go through a whole bunch of other inappropriate things. It helps that the hormones of this young narrator are fitting and often funny too. The novel is depicting real-life kids in real-life situations and doesn’t hold back in telling us what really happens when you take risks. Parents looking for clean YA should probably look elsewhere. You’ll want to be okay to toe the line (and maybe step over it) with a few topics before jumping in.
Jewbilly is jam-packed with voicey humor. It’s an unapologetic and loud historical YA. It’ll be a refreshing read for those kids looking for stories of honest 12 & 13 year olds instead of the watered-down versions in their approved curriculum. It speaks to readers who are willing to look outside their own beliefs to search for their personal truth and to take risks—but to recognize that there are some wild outcomes when you make wild choices.
Genre: Middle Grade / Historical Fiction
Print Length: 432 pages
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