Review: Detour Ahead

Detour Ahead

by Pamela Ehrenberg & Tracy López, illustrated by Laila Ekboir

PJ Publishing, 2022

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Judith S. Greenblatt

“Someone fell off a bike,” yells Gila. Thus starts the friendship between Gila and Guillermo, each different and extraordinary. We have been inside Gila’s head, so we know her approach to the world is not the usual; she is on the autism spectrum. Guillermo, we find out, has recently moved to Washington D.C. from rural Virginia: his family is from El Salvador. This coming of age story focuses on Gila’s bat mitzvah and Guillermo’s poetry. Gila sees her bat mitzvah as marking the beginning of adulthood, and to achieve greater maturity she needs to be able to handle detours. Guillermo needs to find his identity in a new place, to acknowledge how important writing poetry is, and to overcome his fear of exposing his poetry and his vulnerability in public.

Both Gila and Guillermo are well-rounded characters. The point of view of the story moves back and forth between them, and the different styles make it clear who is talking. Gila expresses her difficulties in navigating the world so comprehensibly that one of the takeaways for readers is a better understand of how some neurologically different people see the world, and therefore a better understand of how to interact with them. Guillermo’s chapters are written in poetry, and sprinkled with Spanish, providing yet another dimension to our understanding. As the story unfolds, Gila and Guillermo get to know each other as people and learn about each other’s culture. This beautiful and authentic book is enhanced by a lively cover and scattered black and white illustrations.

Detour Ahead is all about Jewish values. The theme of the book is growing up, and Gila’s maturation is placed in the context of her bat mitzvah, which is central to her thoughts. Her reaction to Guillermo’s coat is that it is just like Joseph’s coat in her Torah portion. Her efforts at learning to breakdance are also seen through a Jewish lens, as she reflects on how the dance moves resemble Hebrew letters. The bat mitzvah experience is shown in a positive light, even as Gila’s special challenges are made clear. Since Guillermo is not Jewish, explanations are a natural part of the story, as are Guillermo’s explanations of his culture. 
Jewish values are evident throughout the story. Gila displays chesed (kindness) when she alerts the bus driver that she's seen a bicycle accident outside the window. Family relationships are central: Asher is a kind and supportive brother who helps Gila understand the world, and although her relationship with sister Mira is rocky, Gila works hard to find solutions to Mira's problems. Mira is distraught because Gila's bat mitzvah conflicts with her gymnastics qualifying meet, but Gila's attention to detail helps her find a loophole allowing Mira to qualify on a different date. While attending a gymnastics meet on a Saturday may not be halachically acceptable, the guiding principle of keeping peace in the family is common to all of our diverse Jewish community. Detour Ahead is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. 

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Reviewer Judith S. Greenblatt says: I hold a Master of Library Service from Rutgers-The State University, and a Master of Arts in Jewish Studies from Hebrew College, Newton, Ma. I started my career as a Judaic Librarian as Librarian at the Michael Lichtenstein Memorial Library, Temple B'nai Israel, Toledo, Ohio. as Director of Library Services at the Bureau of Jewish Education of Rhode Island, served as Vice President and President of the School, Synagogue and Center Division of AJL. Publications include: 1985-86 Book lists; for young children, for 3rd to 6th graders, for young adults, 100 Plus Books For The Children's Library: A Basic Collection. Weine Classification Scheme for Judaica Libraries. Revised by Judith S. Greenblatt, Chairman. 8th edition. Association of Jewish Libraries, Synagogue, School and Center Division, 1994.