If you’re at all like me, then your 2023 to-be-read list (TBR for short) is getting longer with every new Goodreads email in your inbox. If you’re overwhelmed by the number of books you’d like to read this year, this article may not be for you. If, however, you love books and also dream of teased hair, jazzercize, and montages complete with upbeat music, then chances are you’re looking for some books to compliment that ‘80s movie addiction of yours. And if you’re really, really like me, then you’re also always looking for books that incorporate Jewish characters and themes. With all that in mind, check out this list of Jewish books to add to your TBR list based on your favorite ‘80s movie.
Dirty Dancing: Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland
Trade in the Borscht Belt in the ‘60s for Atlantic City in the ‘20s. “Florence Adler Swims Forever” by Rachel Beanland is a Jewish cultural treat. Esther and Joseph Adler struggle to navigate delicate matters as their two daughters’ lives drift apart when one chooses family and the other chooses ambition. Drawing you in and introducing you to a broad cast of characters, Beanland excels at teasing your emotions. Just when you think all hope is lost, new hope is found (just like when Patrick Swayze comes back at the end for the final dance scene). You’ll love the summer vibes this book is sending and also appreciate the very rich story with its many messages. “No one puts Florence Adler in a corner” might just be your new mantra.
The Breakfast Club: Aviva Vs. the Dybbuk by Mari Lowe
“The Breakfast Club” gave us good angsty teenage vibes. “Aviva Vs. the Dybbuk” will do just about the same. Aviva develops a love-hate relationship with a dybbuk (malicious spirit) who lives in the mikvah tended by her mother. When her community is affected by antisemitism, Aviva’s relationships are tested and she’ll have to confront this mysterious being. Granted, this book is intended for middle-grade readers (think 10 to 12-year-olds), but it carries with it intense themes having to do with fitting in, mental health, seeing people differently and bridging differences between friends who have drifted apart. If you like the stereotypes and high school setting in “The Breakfast Club,” give this novel a try.
The Princess Bride: The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
Are you a hopeless romantic? Check out Alice Hoffman’s “The Marriage of Opposites.” Rather than a comical fantasyland, this book takes place in tropical St. Thomas. Rachel is trapped in a business-like marriage. When her husband dies, she starts to follow her passions which, in turn, affects her entire family including her sons. Spoiler alert: Her son Camille ends up being one of the best-known Impressionist artists in France. From the writer of “Practical Magic,” which was adapted into the classic ‘90s film, this book has it all: love, drama, family tensions, the Tropics, France and art. What more could you possibly want?
The Neverending Story: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
If the idea of a book that never ends appeals to you, then “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks is the ideal read for you. The whimsy of faraway lands and the intensity of a quest for survival is echoed in this historical fiction book that reimagines the very real story (one might even consider it a quest) of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a book that has had quite the storied past. Rather than vanquishing the Nothing, vanquish the forces of history that have tried to rip this book away from the people who will always protect it.
When Harry Met Sally: An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen
When Harry and Sally first met, they might have seemed like a truly odd couple. But are they really any odder than Lola and Yaakov from Naomi Ragen’s “An Unorthodox Match”? This love story does happen much quicker than Harry and Sally, but you’ll be waiting for it throughout the entire book. As a bonus, the sequel recently came out, called “An Observant Wife,” so you won’t have to guess what happens next!
Steel Magnolias: Henna House by Nomi Eve
If you’re inspired most by the bonds of sisterhood, try reading “Henna House” by Nomi Eve. Set in Yemen in 1920, Adela Damari becomes a victim of the Orphan’s Decree, which declares that any child who is not betrothed when orphaned is subject to be adopted by the Muslim community. As Adela grows up in fear, she learns the art of henna from her aunt. You’ll be struck by the deep relationships forged through this form of art and the dilemmas the women face together. Not to spoil anything, but the ending will haunt you and leave you thinking long after you have read the final page.
Dead Poets Society: The Light of Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner
There’s nothing quite like breaking tradition, as Robin Williams’ character shows us in “Dead Poet’s Society”. Rena Rossner does much the same in her fantasy novel “The Light of the Midnight Stars.” Woven together from many strands of inspiration including legends, folktales, Jewish texts and Kabbalah, Rossner tells a story in which three sisters break tradition: both of their own volitions and against their wills. This modern folktale is a must-read for anyone with a proclivity for poetry and a love of word weaving.