Monday, May 22, 2023

MMGM-The Jake Show

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Levy, Joshua. The Jake Show
May 23, 2023 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jake's mother and father had a bitter divorce, and because of the custody arrangements, Jake has had to go to several new schools. His mother has become more devout in her Judaism and even married a rabbi, Shmuel. His father has remarried Kayla and has backed away from religion altogether. His new school, Broward County Jewish Day School, is a compromise. Jake's whole life seems like a compromise. With his mother, he is Yaakov, and knows to wear his yarmulke, follow her restrictive diet, and not talk about girls. With his father, he knows to not talk about his mother, and to concentrate on things his father likes, like technology, especially television. Jake takes a lot of comfort in television programs with functional families, and finds watching them more restful than having to navigate his own families' unspoken rules. At his new school, he is Jacob. He checks to see what other boys are wearing in the way of yamulkes (Knit! How did he not guess that?), wears the school polo, and tries to keep his head down. This is hard when Caleb and Tehilla want to be friends with him, and get very invested in their "school project". That is, they do their project, and then use it as an excuse to hang out at Caleb's house. Caleb's family is well-to-do and supportive, but he has had a few problems at school when he came out as gay. The school is just progressive enough that they don't kick him out, but there are some people who are bothered by it. Tehilla and he mother are sometimes unhoused, and students make fun of her for her poverty. The two have been friends for a long time, and spent the summers at Camp Gershoni. They think that Jake should go as well. He knows that the camp would be too Jewish for his dad, and not Jewish enough for his mother, so he and his new friends create two websites and mailings, and get the parents interested in fictional camps. They even have them pay online, and then use the money for Camp Gershoni. There are some wrinkles when the time comes to get to camp, and Shmuel and Kayla end up being the key to continuing the ruse long enough for Jake to get there. Camp is great, but Jake can't keep his parents in the dark forever, especially since one of his teachers from JDS is a counselour. When the truth comes out, can Jake use it to finally tell his parents how much their fighting affects his life? 
Strengths: FINALLY!  A book about a Jewish middle schooler with lots of details about Jewish life that is not about a bar mitzvah. I loved that even though Jake does have his during the book, it's barely mentioned. Instead, we see family celebrations, religious education in school, and discussions of different dietary and clothing specifications. I was also really intrigued at Jake's view of the world through television at the beginning of the book. Even though this waned a bit as he got out of his head and made friends, we even get a nice description of the phrase "jump the shark" as it pertains to the show Happy Days and all subsequent television, and was a good way to illustrate Jake's longing for the past version of his family that no longer exists. Shmuel and Kayla are great, and play a particularly good role in the custody hearings that finally take into consideration what Jake really wants. I loved Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family books when I was young because of their view into another kind of life, and if this book doesn't win the award in Taylor's honor, there is no justice in this world. 
Weaknesses: The idea that Jake would be able to get into Camp Gershoni, falsify all of the documents involved, and FLY there was a bit farfetched, but huge bonus points to Levy for working out a way that Jake could go to Camp Gershoni that seemed realistic. Also, I am not a fan of any religions at all, so I sort of wanted Jake's mother to lose custody of him. The parents fighting over religion, and the effect on Jake, seemed borderline abusive to me. 
What I really think: As someone who spent a LOT of time at Methodist church activities in middle school (not just services, but youth group, confirmation class, retreats, and Vacation Bible School), I enjoy reading books that talk about the way that religion informs daily life without being spiritual. I think this is how many middle schoolers view religion. It's something to DO rather than something to BELIEVE. While the story does have some serious issues of identity and family issues, the book cover is great, there are plenty of hijinks, and the story is ultimately fun and upbeat. Another great title from the author of Seventh Grade vs. The Galaxy


  1. I love to read books that should be Sydney Taylor nominations since I found out as an adult that we had a family secret about our grandfather being Jewish. Writing about this secret myself. Can't wait to read Levy's book after reading Rosen's COMING OF AGE.

  2. As I taught middle school for a lot of years, I supported numerous students going through family divorces. Some went fairly well, but sad, but one kept going on vacations together, thinking it would help. It didn't, just kept the child hoping. This sounds great, Karen. Thanks for the review.

  3. This sounds like an intriguing read—like you mention, there aren't many MG books about Jewish kids! And I love your point about how middle schoolers perceive religion—I think you're right that it's more of an activity/duty than a belief system. Thanks so much for the thoughtful review, Karen!

  4. I saw this one and wondered about it! It was great to read your thoughts. :) It sounds like this deals with a lot of issues relevant to kids.

  5. Thanks for the review, going to add this to the TBR. Have a wonderful week.

  6. Sounds interesting. It's funny when people tend to write about one thing about a certain culture or religion all the time without showcasing the other things that make it varied.

  7. Great review, and glad to see my library has it on order.