Those who are avid readers often fondly remember the books that seemed to have changed our lives. Many of the books that have stuck with me, I read during my teenage years. Adolescence is a time in life when people struggle with identity and seek to be understood. The books we connect with at this time can be an extremely powerful influence—sometimes as powerful as a friend, a counselor, or a family member.
Not much time has passed since I was a teen, but young adult books seem a lot different to me now. More appear open and honest about the struggles actual kids go through, and Parachuting by Leora Freedman is this kind of book. It doesn't shy away from delving into the realistic challenges of the main character, sixteen-year-old Zoe Diamond. There is no sugarcoating in this book, thankfully!
Parachuting is Freedman's second novel, a follow up to Ivory Pomegranate, which won several awards in Israel. This book is a coming of age novel in which Zoe struggles with a suicidal best friend, a confusing crush on her Hebrew School teacher, and asking big questions about life and identity. She has sex, cuts class, and smokes pot—all things I imagine would make her more relatable to teenage readers.
Freedman is spot-on in writing a believably self-absorbed teenager. So, given that I was reading Parachuting as an adult, it was sometimes annoying to be immersed back in that phase of life. But the feelings explored throughout the book—confusion, anger, depression—are ones we can all understand.
It would have been interesting to delve deeper into some of the issues touched only on the surface in the book, like the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 1973 or the race relations at Zoe's school. Hannah Senesh, the real-life Israeli parachuter whom Zoe admires, has a very fascinating biography, and it would have been neat to hear more about her in the story. A strong female role model in a YA book is always a good thing!
It was refreshing to read a young adult novel that deals with the important themes of queerness and trauma. Freedman treats her readers with respect, wrestling with the true challenges of being a teenager rather then pretending high school is the best time of our lives.