From Dust, a Flame

Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins/. Feb. 2022. 416p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062699060.
Gr 9 Up–When Hannah wakes up on her 17th birthday with the eyes of a snake, her eccentric mother, Mali, promises she can fix Hannah’s ailment, and then leaves without a trace. When time passes with Mali nowhere to be found and Hannah developing new animal-like physical traits, Hannah and her brother, Gabe, receive notice that their Jewish grandmother, Jitka, whom they have never met, has died. They head to the small town of Fox Hollows to meet their mom’s family for the first time, hoping for answers. The siblings befriend Ari, a cool, confident, queer, Jewish local in town, whose grandmother was a beloved spiritual healer, to help investigate the disappearance of their mom and Hannah’s ever-changing body. They uncover a haunting history, one that proves we as people are bound by the actions of our ancestors. Podos’s book bridges three generations of young women and the burdens they can’t escape. Present-day Hannah’s coming-of-age story is in the forefront, but there are flashbacks to 1939 and 1990, when her grandmother and mother were teens, that shed light on Hannah’s current situation. The story of Jitka narrowly escaping the Holocaust and Mali’s traumatic first love story are revealed in detail. Letters are interwoven into the story, helping to drive the plot forward. The novel is seeped in traditional Jewish folktales of magic, golems, and demons, and authentically ties in Jewish ritual and holidays.
VERDICT This is the queer Jewish YA fantasy novel readers need, featuring complex characters to adore and family secrets they’ll want to uncover.

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