Monday, October 1, 2018

Book Review: Yeled Tov by Daniel M. Jaffe

Media Type: Print Book
Title: Yeled Tov
Author: Daniel M. Jaffe
Publisher: Lethe Press
Pages: Paperback; 320
Release Date: May 12, 2018
Source: TLC Book Tours / Author
Content Screening: Brief Sexual Acts, Mild Adult Language

HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who want a well-written glimpse into the life of a 1970's LGBTQ young man.

Add it on: Goodreads | Amazon
1974 and Jake Stein wants to be a good Jewish boy, but he finds himself struggling to reconcile his traditional beliefs and his strong faith in God with his growing attraction to other boys. He lands a part in the school play, The Diary of Anne Frank, and while he should be imagining the suffering of the Holocaust, he feels real tsuris over falling for the kid who's playing Peter van Daan. Even college is no escape, as his freshman roommate happens to be gorgeous and rarely dressed. Author Daniel M. Jaffe's newest novel offers readers a compelling young hero trying to find a path between desire and devotion, often with advice from the voice of God, or at least how Jake imagines the Almighty ​would instruct a young man to do the right thing.
My heart is still hurting for Jake Stein, I tell you what. I started Yeled Tov, planning to read a few chapters in between chores. Instead, I ended up stuck on the couch and reading this book intensely. Daniel M. Jaffe's book is raw. It's an unapologetic trip into the mind of a boy who is not only told by his religion that the way he feels is unnatural, but also by society as whole. It's a story about hiding who you are, until you can't anymore. This book simply tore at my heart.

Jake's character is instantly likable. He's your standard teenage boy, headed into college and looking forward to the future. Sweet, well-mannered, and full of promise. Or, at least, he is on the outside. Inside Jake is a mess. Jaffe does such a perfect job of showing the reader how conflicted our protagonist is about the truth of who he is. When your whole goal in life is to be a yeled tov (a good Jewish boy), how does having "deviant" sexual feelings fit into that? Jake's story isn't a new one, but it's definitely one that needs to be told as many times as possible. Jaffe allows the reader to step into Jake's shoes, and see how rough young adulthood can really be.

Truthfully, my only small complaint with this book was that each section felt just mildly too short. I know this is a semi-autobiographical novel. I also know that in real life our stories don't just comfortably flow from one chapter to the next. Still, I adored Jake. His struggle, his feelings, I just wanted to crawl deeper into his story and really sit next to him for a while. There's something heartbreakingly beautiful about watching someone fall apart, and then put themselves slowly back together again. I'll never tire of reading books that really make me feel.

Fair warning, this book really is at the upper end of Young Adult labeling. There isn't any actual sex depicted, but there are plenty of things very close to that making their way onto the page. If you are uncomfortable with the proper names for genitalia, or with briefly mentioned oral sex acts, this might be a book that you want to avoid. As I mentioned above, this book is raw. It's starkly written, right down to the poor choices that our budding protagonist makes as he tries to figure himself out. It didn't offend me in the slightest, since it's written as an important part of the story. Still, I feel like it's fair to put it out there for potential readers. Trust me, this book is worth your time.

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.


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