The Jake Show

HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. May 2023. 240p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063248199.
Gr 5 Up–This novel has a tropey premise in middle grade novels: the seventh-grade kid caught between warring divorced parents. However, it is distinct from so many others because the root of Jake’s angst is his parents’ wildly differing approaches to their Jewish faith and culture. Jake’s parents can’t even agree on his name; Jake’s dad calls him Jacob and his mom–or Imma–calls him Yaakov, his Hebrew name. The differences and expectations ramp up from there, causing Jake to create three versions of himself: Yaakov, the Orthodox version, pleasing to his mother; Jacob, the non-observant, earnest math and science student for his dad; and Jake, as he refers to himself, the kid who is just trying to make it through each day. Jake manages to assimilate into his fifth school in two years and makes friends with Caleb and Tehilla, who, like all kids, have their own personal issues. The story takes some unrealistic turns as Jake, Caleb, and Tehilla come up with a convoluted plan for them all to attend a Jewish summer camp, tricking both of Jake’s parents into thinking the camp would fit their criteria for appropriate summer activities. Readers might like the story because the kids take the reins and make adult-worthy decisions. But even Jake admits that “turning on subtitles” might be helpful to non-Jewish readers. Not true. Jake does a good job of explaining. The climax contains unrealistic histrionics, but the ending is nice and tidy and will please most readers.
VERDICT A representative novel with enough broad drama to circulate in middle grade libraries.

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