What Makes Us

Candlewick. Oct. 2019. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763697501.
Gr 9 Up–It’s a toss-up whether this book focuses on single mother Devorah or on her teenaged son Avi, and that’s a compliment. Entangled by their love for each other, these two struggle to come to terms with the past that Devorah has tried to protect Avi from with her silence: he doesn’t know that his father killed himself and three others with a bomb. “This is not our fight,” Devorah told the press; Avi was two at the time. She changed her name to Eema and Avi’s to Eran, moved from New York to Houston, and kept her secret as her son grew. Readers meet Eran in high school. He mythologizes his father as the absent parent and blames Eema, the one who stayed, for the anger he cannot always manage, even as he admires her self-control. In his rage Eran resembles his father, but only Eema knows this. After Eran and his friends organize a protest against gun violence and a negative encounter goes viral, an investigative journalist uncovers what his father did. As mother and son reckon with the truth and their little family of two hangs in the balance, a local synagogue offers refuge and a sense of belonging. This coming-of-age story has heft—and much relevance.
VERDICT Strong medicine for readers interested in how society accepts or rejects those who are different. An excellent choice for mature audiences.

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