It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, & Other Jewish Stories edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman is an #OwnVoices YA anthology of short stories that explore many themes and experiences relating to Jewish identities.
I received an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of this book last summer, when I first read it, and then I became too sick to write up a review then. I’m super sad about that because I adored this anthology so much! So, this year, I wanted to make sure to re-read it and give it a proper review because I feel this is a collection that needs to be shouted about. It’s wonderfully diverse and wholesome.
Short story collections are something that I don’t read often because it’s usually very difficult for me to focus on them with my ADHD. Also, a lot of the times, the tales will be either very similar, or they will feel like they’re lacking in one way or another due to the limited word counts (i.e.: not long enough to fully explore the world-building, characters, politics, etc.). However, with It’s a Whole Spiel¸ I never felt like I was missing out too much of the narrative, and the richness of the numerous experiences and identities that are shared helped prevent it from feeling unoriginal or like it was just a colourful regurgitation of the same exact plot.
Each segment explores complex themes of relationships with faith (Judaism), bonds between people that are both romantic and platonic, various familial dynamics, coming to terms with one’s sexuality or gender identity, discovering independence, and more. Some works made me laugh-out-loud, others made me feel rather emotional and even a bit sad, and a couple of others gave me a great sense of heartfelt relatability, sort of like meeting a comrade or companion I could empathise with due to our analogous difficulties in life. Heck, I wish I could go back into time and have sixteen-year-old me read the ones that explore Queer identities and self-acceptance the most.
With each instalment, themes of what it means to be Jewish are explored to various degrees, and this is probably one of my favourite aspects because it shows that there is no single, correct mould when it comes to faith. Everyone believes differently. Some people have a much stronger connection to their faith while others struggle to find a balance that is right for them, particularly when there’s a significant amount of pressure forcing someone to adhere to a strict following of it. It shows that being of a specific faith doesn’t mean that they’re a part of a monolith of said faith. There’s a diversity to the experiences that everyone has with faith, and it’s not always going to pretty or cookie cutter perfect, and that’s okay, even if it’s damn hard to deal with it.
Some of the subject matter can be tough to read, but that’s what makes them all the more necessary, more so when looking at cultural communities and the stigma of what is wrong or taboo versus what is right, such as being Gay or having rigid gender roles. These are conversations that need to be occurring within these communities, especially with younger generations so they can understand that it’s safe and okay for them to be themselves, even if that means exploring to figure out just what the heck that even means for them.
These nuances of trying to understand what it means to be Jewish when combined with the everyday battles of seeking self-respect, or even just as sense of self outside of one’s family, for example, make the anthology sincere with its emotional pull. There’s such a wide berth of feelings that the reader can undergo, from laughing to smiling to crying to feeling angry or frustrated (usually for the character) or even a bit heartbroken. This depth of diversity is beautiful and vibrant.
I highly recommend It’s a Whole Spiel to all readers, especially if you’re a fan of contemporary narratives that examine cultural identities and exploration of the self-worth within the Jewish communities, and even more so if you’re a Jewish YA reader. There’s a lot of wisdom and insight shared within these pages that is the perfect way to engage in much needed discourse about faith and individuality. My favourite stories are: “Aftershock,” “Neilah,” “The Hold,” and “Jewbacca.”
4.25 latkes outta 5!