Yeled Tov by: Daniel M. Jaffe
Genre:YA, Coming of age, mental illness, LGBT, Religion
Release: April 18, 2018
Publisher: Lethe Press
Synopsis: As he’s about to turn 16 in the mid-1970’s, Jake Stein notices a prohibition in Leviticus that never caught his eye before: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.” This discovery distresses Jake, an observant Jewish teen, because he’s recently been feeling increased attraction to other teen boys and men. He’s even been engaging in sexual exploration with his best friend. In an attempt to distract himself, Jake joins his high school’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank, but falls in love with the romantic male lead, obsessively fantasizing about him. Jake feels lonelier than ever.
The next year, while a freshman at Princeton University, Jake falls for his handsome roommate, is beset by serious temptations, and engages in a traumatic sexual encounter with a stranger. Seeking help from God, Jake tries to alter his desires, even dates a young Jewish woman in the hopes that she can change him, but to no avail. Jake concludes that God could never love an abomination like him, so he attempts to prove his faith by ending his own life.
After he’s saved by his roommate, Jake receives unexpected support from doctors, family, and friends, some of whom have been suspecting his secret. With their help, Jake explores a different way of thinking about the rules of Torah and himself, and begins to consider that he might actually be a yeled tov, a good Jewish boy, just the way he is.
Set in the mid-to-late 1970s, Yeled Tov follows the life of a young, conflicted, Jewish teen who struggles to hide and resist the fact that he is attracted to men and not women. Conflicted and terrified of his family and father learning his “sinful” secret and what the result of that realization could possibly mean, the reader sees Jake fight with his inner demons.
I was pleasantly surprised at the number of funny scenes and humorous dialogue in the book overall but mostly I did not think this book was driven by an active goal-point revelation in the narrative. More like a focused internal, emotional and mental development of the protagonist’s life, well-being, confidence, happiness, sense of self and peace of mind.
My overall thoughts on Jake and his story really came down to how much I felt for him in his struggle to be a good son and a good Jewish boy for his family, for his culture and his religion. (He just wasn’t living for himself.) It was clear how smart and bright he was while reading this book and I often found myself smiling or laughing (mainly in the beginning) of this book because Jake’s character had this relatable and likable charm about him mixed in with the speckles of humor.
However, I was confused on the real age-range for the book because even with the content and some of the material that’s covered in the book I kind of felt like it still reads like a YA novel. It wasn’t so much as harsh environments or harsh details to read and I didn’t see the “traumatic encounter with the stranger” as such either. There were just a lot of strong internal and emotional distress calls I think when it came to Jake’s story.
I felt for him when he and his former best friend, Dave, and he fell out. I wholeheartedly sided with Jake and his treatment of Dave when their friendship ended because of the way Dave used him. I am, however, surprised that not many people really found out sooner about Jake’s feelings with the changes in his behavior and the jitteriness we see he goes through beginning with his first crush in high school.
Not that they needed to realize that Jake was gay, but that his self- guilt over it all was starting to make him ill; even before things grew worse, I thought that his character showed signs of crying out for help pretty early in the narrative too.
By the end of the book and the number of people in his inner circle and outside of it who confront Jake, it made me think that one of them could have said something sooner, besides his close friend Deb. As it was obvious the more he tried to suppress his feelings and deny his own truth, the worse he became.
On the other hand, when it comes to internalizing your fears, your sadness, and your depression, or just trying to get through each day without letting people really know what’s going on in your head, it can be a different story. Whether because you are scared and don’t know what to do, from the outside looking in, for his family and friends, it may have seemed as if Jake was just as fine as he said he was.
The biggest eye-opener for me in this book was really going through the process of seeing how someone so emotionally tortured by themselves at the fear of going against their family, religion, culture, and God (in a sense) completely broke my heart. The more I saw Jake isolate himself, break down, unable to see that he didn’t need to go as far as he did or feel so angry at himself for not being “normal”. The more I just wanted to hug him and tell him that there wasn’t anything wrong with him! There is a really nice quote from a character from this book in Jake’s life who says, “We’re supposed to live by the Torah, not die by it.”
I don’t want to give spoilers away but it even though it is set in the mid-to-late 70s I do think this book could offer non-LGBT individuals a bit of perspective, not only how some may struggle with self-acceptance and coming out, but also the mental effects it might have on individuals who are deeply religious or whose cultures still perceive homosexuality as something that is sinful, abnormal or wrong.
Yeled Tov, in my opinion, leaves its readers with an open-ended ending following a point-of-no-return for Jake to cross a threshold. It might pose a number of questions for others who are a bit shellshocked in their lives–be it from a family aspect, romantic, religious or cultural–and given an opportunity to be free and true to themselves and I hope it is a chance that they take. Because if this book emulates anything, it is that living in the dark and torturing yourself is a toxic way to live.
About The Author:
Daniel M. Jaffe is an award-winning, internationally published fiction and essay writer. His novel-in-stories, THE GENEALOGY OF UNDERSTANDING, was a finalist and honorable mention for the Rainbow Awards; and his novel, THE LIMITS OF PLEASURE, was a finalist for a ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award. He is author of JEWISH GENTLE AND OTHER STORIES OF GAY JEWISH LIVING, and compiler/editor of WITH SIGNS AND WONDERS: AN INTERNATIONAL ANTHOLOGY OF JEWISH FABULIST FICTION. Also, Daniel translated the Russian-Israeli novel, HERE COMES THE MESSIAH! by Dina Rubina. Read more at www.danieljaffe.com.
Tour Organized by:Thank you all so much for stopping by to read my review and thoughts on Yeled Tov. If you liked what you read here and want to read more, I highly recommend that you go and check it you for yourselves. ^_^ Until the next post, Gia.