Review: Eight Nights of Flirting

Eight Nights of Flirting

by Hannah Reynolds

Razorbill (imprint of Penguin Random House), 2022

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Evonne Marzouk
Hannah Reynolds’ newest novel, Eight Nights of Flirting, tells an enjoyable story about a girl finding love and finding herself. Sixteen-year old Shira Barbanel is warm and loving with her large Sephardic Jewish family, but often struggles to build close friendships and connect with love interests. She definitely does not want to connect with eighteen year old Tyler, who humiliated her several years before. But unexpectedly alone together in her grandparents’ Nantucket house for the first night of Hanukkah, Shira and Tyler strike a surprising deal. Tyler will teach Shira how to flirt with her current crush, Isaac, in exchange for an introduction to advance his career.

This high society story takes place in snowy Nantucket over Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years’ Eve, indulging fantasies of wealth, access and elaborate parties. But the characters are down to earth, and like all teens, discovering how to be themselves. As Tyler teaches Shira to let others in, he also reveals some of his own truths, like how he was bullied as a younger child, and some of the challenges experienced by his two moms and their larger family. Shira and Tyler discover a family secret about a long lost sailor, and research historical texts and museums to solve the mystery. Shira’s many cousins, getting involved with each other and her romantic interests, provide joyful comic relief. Of course, eight nights of flirting lead to more than just friendship. Ultimately, Shira learns that what will truly make her happy is not to be successful, but to be brave.

With its positive and playful Jewish content, Eight Nights of Flirting is a lovely addition to the field of Jewish young adult books, and following The Summer of Lost Letters, is a nice second story about the Barbanel family. Much of the book takes place on Hanukkah, with prominent mentions given to candle lighting, gift giving, and dreidel playing. One focal point of the book is an elaborate Hanukkah play organized by the cousins. Since Tyler, and Shira’s best friend Olivia, are not Jewish, Shira is called upon to answer questions about Judaism – some of which she knows, and some she doesn’t. It is nice to see these friends treating Shira and her Jewish traditions so warmly, with no hints of antisemitism, especially considering the history of Jewish exclusion in Nantucket mentioned from the past.

This is a well-written, engaging story with positive messages about diversity and girls’ empowerment. It will especially be of interest to pre-teen and teen girls who love rom-coms, with Jewish representation and a little historical mystery thrown in. It would be a great addition to Jewish libraries that serve teens, and a fun Hanukkah gift for girls who love to read. 

Ed. Note: This book was included in the Association of Jewish Libraries' Fall 2022 Holiday Highlights list for the best Jewish holiday books for children of the fall 2022 publishing season.

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Reviewer Evonne Marzouk is the author of the spiritual Jewish YA novel The Prophetess, published by Bancroft Press in 2019, and a new Heroine’s Journal which empowers teen girls and women to grow into all their gifts. She works professionally for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 2003, she founded Canfei Nesharim (recently merged with GrowTorah) to educate the Jewish community about protecting the environment. In 2014, she co-edited Uplifting People and Planet: Eighteen Essential Jewish Lessons on the Environment. She grew up in Philadelphia and received her B.A. in writing from the Johns Hopkins University.