Review: What We're Scared Of

What We're Scared Of

by Keren David

Scholastic UK

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Michelle Falkoff

Fraternal twins Evie and Lottie don’t think of themselves as Jewish—their father isn’t, and while
their mother was born Jewish, she’s mostly put it behind her, other than occasionally making
latkes and honey cake for holidays. But antisemitism is on the rise in their hometown of London,
where their mother has a morning radio show, and when she uses her radio platform to denounce
it, the girls find they have to learn more about their heritage.

Funny, outgoing Evie discovers her secret crush is spouting antisemitic conspiracy theories, and
she joins up with some new friends and becomes an underground activist. Shy, curious Lottie
calls out her own friends’ racism and bigotry and befriends another Jewish girl named Hannah,
who welcomes her into her synagogue. Their paths to understanding Judaism collide when
violence erupts outside Hannah’s sister’s bat mitzvah, where Lottie is attending her first Shabbat
service while Hannah goes head-to-head with a knife-wielding terrorist.

David does an impressive job showing how two very different teens who do not perceive
themselves to be Jewish come to participate in the community in their own distinct and personal
ways. She also provides a whole range of antisemitic behavior, from easy-to-identify full-on
violence to more insidious and subtle invocations of stereotypes, mischaracterizations, and
inaccuracies, to give readers a sense of the variety of ways these behaviors are damaging. Her
decision to bring in the voice of a Holocaust survivor for some of the later chapters highlights the
seriousness of the issues the book raises. While some readers may come away with the feeling
that David has oversimplified some perspectives in order to check off a lot of boxes, she does
manage to cover a lot of material in a very short and easy-to-read space, particularly for readers
who may be new to reading about some of these topics.

What We’re Scared Of satisfies the criteria to be considered for the Sydney Taylor award in that
it has literary merit, positive and authentic Jewish content, and convincing research. It also meets the criteria of being appropriate for its age category and professionally published in English. 

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Reviewer Michelle Falkoff is the author of the young adult novels Playlist for the Dead, Pushing Perfect, Questions I Want to Ask You, and How to Pack for the End of the World. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently serves as Director of Communication and Legal Reasoning at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.