Featured Review: What Makes Us (Rafi Mittlefehldt)
About This Book:
A viral video reveals a teen’s dark family history, leaving him to reckon with his heritage, legacy, and identity in this fiery, conversation-starting novel. Eran Sharon knows nothing of his father except that he left when Eran was a baby. Now a senior in high school and living with his protective but tight-lipped mother, Eran is a passionate young man deeply interested in social justice and equality. When he learns that the Houston police have launched a program to increase traffic stops, Eran organizes a peaceful protest. But a heated moment at the protest goes viral, and a reporter connects the Sharon family to a tragedy fifteen years earlier — and asks if Eran is anything like his father, a supposed terrorist. Soon enough, Eran is wondering the same thing, especially when the people he’s gone to school and temple with for years start to look at him differently. Timely, powerful, and full of nuance, Rafi Mittlefehldt’s sophomore novel confronts the prejudices, fears, and strengths of family and community, striking right to the heart of what makes us who we are.
*Review Contributed By Olivia Farr Staff Reviewer*
WHAT MAKES US is an intriguing story that follows a teenaged boy, his mother (in the past), and his friend in alternating sections. The book largely deals in trust/secrets within family, the way that your relatives can shape you (nature vs. nurture), as well as the brutality of people and news and coping with the unexpected.
Eran lives with his mother and has never known his father. His mother is very tight-lipped about him, but Eran has always wondered. However, he never expected to receive these truths after he is part of/leading a protest march against a new police policy that allows them to pull anyone over with or without documented cause (along the lines of stop and frisk). When counter-protesters get in their face and rile him up, he shoves one of them. The video is all over the news and internet, and someone recognizes his mother, who escorted him away from the event.
Eran then learns that his father was a terrorist who bombed a celebration when he was 2. His mother had never expected it and did the best she could by taking him far away, changing their names, and not talking about him. Now, Eran is left wondering how much of his father he is like and dealing with public shaming and shunning (for something that he had nothing to do with).
A smaller, secondary plot involves Eran's friend, Jade, who found a picture that does not make sense with what she knows about herself, leading her to question her parents and the lies that they may have told her. This story does not interfere with the main story but adds a small amount to it by allowing readers to see an ally (she stands up for Eran) as well as the way that parents may have good intentions even with not great outcomes.
What I loved: The best part of the book is how well it shows public-shaming, racism, and the consequences of media followed by public opinion. Eran is a very easily sympathized character, and his story unfolds beautifully. This was somehow a gripping story as we follow him in the aftermath of these earth-shattering revelations (which are complicated by being in the public eye). I also really liked that we see some things from the mother's perspective also, and their relationship- while it does have some bumps- ultimately comes together better due to the hardship and new understandings.
Final verdict: Engrossing and thought-provoking, this novel is a great read that deserves a read and maybe even a reread. With some deep and important themes, this book will leave the reader thinking about it after the last page is read. Recommend for YA readers of any age who are looking for an insightful and engaging read.
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