The Last Words We Said

Leah Scheier

  • Review
By – November 22, 2021

Few books are pub­lished for main­stream youth with Ortho­dox Jews as the main char­ac­ters, and it is easy to under­stand why that is; to make the reli­gion of the char­ac­ters tru­ly rel­e­vant, it needs to play a role with­in the sto­ry. The Last Words We Said by Leah Scheier demon­strates how Ortho­dox Judaism can be woven into a sto­ry that also deals with real life issues many teens face.

This book has many sto­ry­lines, and reli­gion plays a major role in each of them. The main char­ac­ter Eliana, or Ellie, is part of a trio of friends who befriend a boy new to their neigh­bor­hood. Even­tu­al­ly, Eliana and Dan­ny, the new boy, begin dat­ing. Much of the sto­ry­line revolves around their deci­sion and strug­gles to be shomer, or to keep the rules of not touch­ing before marriage.

The three female char­ac­ters are meant to rep­re­sent a spec­trum of Ortho­dox Jew­ish prac­tice. Rae (for­mer­ly Eli­she­va) has rebelled against reli­gion and glo­ries in push­ing the enve­lope. Dee­nie, daugh­ter of a Rab­bi, is becom­ing overzeal­ous in her reli­gious obser­va­tion. Eliana is meant to rep­re­sent the mid­dle of the road; she is still deeply reli­gious, yet befriends a boy, begins dat­ing him, and tries to main­tain the rules of not touching.

The boy, Dan­ny, has gone miss­ing, and most peo­ple believe he is dead. Eliana still sees and talks to Dan­ny, which is the main pro­peller of the sto­ry. To help her heal, Eliana’s ther­a­pist encour­ages her to write sto­ries about Dan­ny. It is through the sto­ries that the events lead­ing up to Eliana and Danny’s rela­tion­ship, and Danny’s dis­ap­pear­ance, are explained.

For most of the book, the read­er is left won­der­ing what hap­pened the night Dan­ny dis­ap­peared, why Rae has moved so com­plete­ly away from reli­gious obser­vance, and what made Deeni cling to it even more. Yet, with many sub­tle clues dropped along the way, noth­ing is ful­ly revealed until Ellie learns it all herself.

This book is beg­ging for a larg­er dis­cus­sion through a book club or book talk. This could be a way of broach­ing top­ics with teens that are often not open­ly dis­cussed, such as sex­u­al­i­ty, adul­tery, and dri­ving while intox­i­cat­ed, and may help them under­stand them­selves better.

The Last Words We Said incor­po­rates sev­er­al dif­fi­cult top­ics into the sto­ry­line of three teenage girls find­ing their own way to relate to (or aban­don) their Ortho­dox Judaism. Each girl’s unique approach dri­ves the sto­ry, and the author is not afraid to shy away from dif­fi­cult topics.

Cindy Wiesel is an Eng­lish teacher in Israel and leads a week­ly book club for adults. She has edit­ed teacher resource mate­ri­als and served as a col­lec­tion advi­sor to school libraries.

Discussion Questions