Review: The Last Words We Said

The Last Words We Said

by Leah Scheier

Simon & Schuster

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Michelle Falkoff
Ellie, Rae, Deenie, and Danny were best friends who all attended a Jewish high school together. Now Danny is gone, and they have to deal with their problems without him. Ellie, his girlfriend, can’t accept that Danny isn’t coming back; she still sees him everywhere, though he’s not as nice to her as he used to be. Rae struggles with wanting to be more modern than their Modern Orthodox community would prefer, while Deenie has gone in the opposite direction, becoming so religious and restrictive that even her rabbi father is worried about her.
Over the course of the novel, all three girls grapple with Danny’s absence and their changing friendship. Ellie, as the narrator, thinks she’s the most affected, and the book takes us through her process of dealing with the loss of her first love. But she also learns that her friends’ issues are far more connected to Danny’s absence than she realized, and the ways Scheier allows readers to intuit this before Ellie figures it out creates useful tension in moving the story forward.  

In placing all the characters’ complicated feelings toward their particular Judaic practice at the center of the novel, Scheier is able to deeply explore many different questions about Jewish identity. Rae wants to find a place for herself in Judaism even as an atheist; Ellie tries to follow both the rules and her heart even when the two seem to be in conflict; Deenie goes to extremes in using Judaism to avoid dealing with her own issues and has to decide how devout she ultimately wants to be. It’s a pleasure to see such a thoughtful exploration of the wide range of experiences possible for Modern Orthodox teens, and it highlights how much breadth is possible in discussing Jewish issues in YA fiction. I look forward to reading more of Scheier’s work.
The Last Words We Said satisfies the criteria to be considered for the Sydney Taylor Book Award in that it has literary merit, positive and authentic Jewish content, and convincing research. It is appropriate for its age category and was professionally published in English, as per official award criteria.
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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 lives in Chicago.