Review: Yes, No, Maybe So
Yes, No, Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha SaeedCategory: Young Adult
Reviewer: A.R. Vishny
This book, about two teens falling in love while working together on a local election, is a sweet, joyful read. It follows Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehman, two soon-to-be high school seniors paired together to canvass for the Democratic candidate running in their district. Jamie, who is Jewish, is trying to shore up his public-speaking skills for his sister’s Bat Mitzvah. Maya, who is South-Asian and Muslim, is looking for a distraction from a Ramadan filled with unwelcomed changes and disappointments. An antisemitic meme making rounds in the community and a proposed law banning Hijabs force both teens to consider the best way forward to fight bigotry in their backyard.
The book alternates between Maya and Jamie's points of view, with the first person narration consistently strong through out. This book’s greatest strength, however, is its cast of characters. Jamie and Maya are well-drawn, with all the awkwardness, passionate enthusiasm, and occasional selfishness of teenagers. Their banter was quick, funny, and natural. Their relationships with their families felt realistic and avoided veering into tired clichés. Notable secondary characters include Jamie’s Instagram-savvy Grandma, the well-meaning-but-ruthless campaign manager Gabe, and Sophie, Jamie’s firecracker sister.
The book’s ultimate message is one of hope and humor, and it maintains that voice even as it navigates a lot of political, social, and cultural drama. The friendship and romance between Jamie and Maya is written thoughtfully, with an eye to the way their cultural backgrounds both strengthen their friendship and present complications to their romance.
I could see this potentially being a Sydney Taylor Honor Book. The book is timely and grapples with what it means to be a young Jewish person in the current political climate. While the book swings more commercial than literary in style, it is still an engrossing and effective depiction of two teens trying to make a difference.
The overall approach to Jewish identity in the book is positive. The details surrounding Bat Mitzvah preparation and the discourse around an antisemitic meme feel authentic, and the authors’ note discusses how both Albertalli and Saeed canvassed together for a special election in Georgia following the 2016 election, amidst a rising climate of antisemitism and Islamophobia. This, however, may not be sufficient “scholarship and research” for the purposes of the award.
The award also pays special consideration to books that showcase the “broad diversity” of Jewish experience, and that’s not particularly present here. Jamie describes himself as a “white Jew.” His Grandma’s frequent use of “Bubalah” and the absence of any cues suggesting otherwise point to his family being Ashkenazic. He’s American, able-bodied and straight. The voice and depiction of these experiences feel authentic, but in the landscape of Jewish contemporary YA it’s familiar ground.
Ultimately, Yes, No, Maybe So is a fun and upbeat read. Whether or not it wins the award, it is a worthy addition to any bookshelf.
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Reviewer A.R. Vishny is a writer, attorney, and occasional television extra based in NYC. Her work has appeared in Alma. Though books will always be her first love, she also has a thing for cake and period dramas, and can be found talking about all that and more at http://twitter.com/AR_Vishny.