In recent years, we’ve seen more YA books with Jewish representation. This is great for diversity in literature and for gift giving during the holiday season. If you’re buying Hanukkah gifts for someone who celebrates or just on the lookout for reading inspiration, these YA books should definitely be considered. The majority of them are YA contemporary romance and are guaranteed to make you swoon.
1. Eight Nights of Flirting by Hannah Reynolds
Eight Nights of Flirting is a new release and it’s on our wish list this holiday season. Shira Barbanel has one major wish for Hanukkah this year: to get a boyfriend. She already has the guy in mind. His name is Isaac and he works for her great uncle. But Shira is terrible at flirting. Enter Tyler: Shira’s nemesis, who also happens to be popular and charming. The two make a deal to help each other, but Shira discovers that Tyler’s a lot different than she expected. Through a Hanukkah full of snow storms and flirting, Shira has to discover which guy is right for her.
2. Recommended for You by Laura Silverman
Recommended for You follows Shoshana Greenburg, who is looking forward to spending Hanukkah with her moms and enjoying her time off working at an indie bookstore. But when Jake Kaplan starts working there, Shoshana and Jake clash immediately. He doesn’t read, yet he works at a bookstore and he’s totally obnoxious. To top it all off, her moms have been fighting more than usual. Shoshana is determined to have a great holiday season no matter what and maybe learn that Jake isn’t so bad after all. Though Jake and Shoshana got off on the wrong foot, watching their relationship blossom was worth it.
3. As If on Cue by Marisa Kanter by Marisa Kanter
Natalie Jacobsen is certain about one thing: that she and Reid Callahan will always be enemies. Unfortunately, she can’t get away from him. 1. He’s always at her house for clarinet lessons. 2. He’s Natalie’s dad’s protégé. 3. He’ll do anything to be better than Natalie at everything. When Natalie finds out on her first day that her beloved drama club, similar to the rest of arts and music clubs besides the band, is getting cut, she’ll do anything to get the school board to reconsider. When the principal throws a wrench in Natalie’s plan, Reid becomes involved. Now Natalie has to make a choice, work with her enemy or let the arts programs end at Lincoln High.
In As If On Cue, Kanter did a great job of bringing Jewish representation into YA. Kanter shows the characters celebrating Hanukkah in the book and even has Natalie and Reid exchange gifts, which was adorable. Building upon these themes, Kanter also discussed the rise of antisemitism and how it impacts the characters in this small Massachusetts town.
4. It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories by various authors
It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories is a collection of short stories from some of the best YA authors, including David Levithan and Rachel Lynn Solomon. Everything from finding love at a Jewish summer camp, to being nervous to attend a crush’s Hanukkah party, to a story about friendship, can be found in the story collection. There’s something for everyone!
5. The How to Ruin series by Simone Elkeles
The How to Ruin series is a trilogy from Simone Elkeles, which follows teen Amy Nelson-Barak as she explores her identity. Amy has never been close with her dad, but all of the sudden he announces that he is taking Amy to spend the summer in Israel on a Moshav with her extended family. Through the course of the series, Amy learns about her cultural heritage. It takes her all around Israel and her hometown of Chicago, Illinois, with her new hot boyfriend Avi.
6. What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter
Can a love triangle have only two people in it? Halle proves it can. YA book blogger Halle Levitt moved from place to place her entire life. All of her friends are online through her blog, where she goes by the pen name, Kels. Halle’s best friend online, Nash Kim, happens to be the first person she meets in her new town. The problem: Halle and Kels are very different.
What I Like About You is one of the first YA contemporary books we’ve read with Jewish representation. Not only does it talk about more known holidays such as Hanukkah and Passover, it also discusses the importance of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. And most of the town is Jewish! We really enjoyed this cute contemporary and had fun watching Nash and Halle’s slow-burn romance.
7. The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner
The Sisters of Winter Wood is the only fantasy book on our list. Liba and Laya enjoyed growing up in their small village. At the same time, the world isn’t an easy place for Jewish people. As their parents set off to see their grandmother, the two are left alone. As this happens, they learn a secret about their parents and how they can turn into animals.
The Sisters of the Winter Wood is a sweet fantasy story about family and love. Set in a magical village on the border between Ukraine and Moldova, the sisters sheltered lives change quickly. This book switches POVs between the sisters and has you rooting for both of them! Plus, the romances will keep you swooning the entire time.
8. Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
Yes No Maybe So is perfect for anyone who is politically active. Jamie Goldberg is excited to volunteer for his local state senate candidate…as long as it’s behind the scenes. With his mom, sister, and grandma in deep planning mode for his sister’s upcoming bat mitzvah, the campaign becomes Jamie’s escape. Maya Rehman is having the worst Ramadan ever. She’s struggling with both family (her parents sprung their divorce one her) and friend (her one and only bestie is off for college soon) drama. Her mother thinks Maya’s summer blues can easily be fixed by canvassing for a local politician.
The amount of diversity was one of the best (and most important) aspects of the book. As we said, there was religious diversity (Jamie’s Jewish family and Maya’s Muslim Pakistani-American family and community), but there was also LGBTQ+ representation. We appreciated that the authors delved into Jewish and Muslim cultures.
9. Pretty Little Secrets by Sara Shepard
Pretty Little Secrets is separated into four parts: one for each main character. Each character celebrates a different holiday. Hanukkah for Hanna, Christmas for Emily, the Winter Solstice for Aria and Spencer celebrates New Year’s Eve. The book starts out with Hanna, who just wants to have a nice Hanukkah celebration with her dad. But her step mom and step sister only want to focus on Christmas. However, her dad insists on celebrating Hanukkah as a family, which brings Hanna one special night. But to escape the family chaos the rest of the time, Hanna hides at the mall, where she has her own holiday adventure.
10. Those Summer Nights
We’re currently reading Those Summer Nights. We’ve had this YA contemporary on our TBR for a while and couldn’t wait to read the emotional story about starting over. Hannah Klein has had a rough year. Now, she’s back home for the summer and ready to start over. Enter Bonanza: The crazy arcade/bowling alley/mini-golf place/summer hangout. She has the summer to prove to her family that she has changed.
Hannah is a complex character and we’ve enjoyed getting to know her and her romantic interest, Ethan Alderman, through the course of the story. Like Silverman’s other YA stories, both Hannah and Ethan are Jewish and their religion plays an important role in the story.
11. The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer
While technically not a YA book, The Matzah Ball features Rachel and Jacob, who have known each other since childhood. We had to feature it because it’s advertised as the perfect Hanukkah romance. Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt has a secret: she write Christmas romances. But when her publisher requests a Hanukkah romance novel, Rachel doesn’t know what to do.
To accomplish this, she attends The Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration and has to get help from Jacob Greenberg, her summer camp rival. Even after all these years, the two can’t stand each other. But as the two work together more, Rachel finds herself drawn to both the holiday and to the guy.