Laura Silverman and Marisa Kanter, authors of Those Summer Nights and As If On Cue respectively, discuss Jewish representation in publishing, writing characters that showcase the diversity of Jewish experience, and how/if to include antisemitism in their work.
Laura Silverman: Hi Marisa! I’m so excited to chat with you! I’d love for you to introduce yourself and your books.
Marisa Kanter: Hey, Laura! I am so excited to be here and to chat all things Jewish romcoms and the absolutely delightful Those Summer Nights with you! I am the author of YA romcoms, an amateur baker, and a reality television enthusiast based in Los Angeles. My debut, What I Like About You asks the question: is it still a love triangle if there are only two people in it? It is my love letter to internet friendship, YA fandom, and cupcakes. My sophomore novel, As if on Cue, is an enemies-to-lovers romance between a playwright and a musician that incorporates all of my strong musical theater feelings. My books center Jewish kids falling in love and making mistakes and just existing as kids — representation that I longed for as a teenager and have loved writing as an adult and finding in books like yours!
*Cue me passing the mic to Laura to introduce herself.*
LS: Your writing is so delightful and brings much needed joy that we could all use right now! I am a YA author of contemporary novels and the editor of YA anthologies. My fourth novel, Those Summer Nights, hits shelves this summer, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with the world! Those Summer Nights combines grief with laughter. Former soccer star Hannah Klein mourns the death of her Bubbie and the loss of her soccer career after a life-changing injury. Over a summer at Bonanza, a multiplex entertainment center with mini golf, bowling, an arcade, and more, she learns how to find a new kind of happiness in the after — with the help of her wild co-workers, her ex-best friend, and a romance with her brother’s suddenly attractive best friend. I really put my heart onto the page with this one, and I hope readers will love Hannah and her journey as much as I do.
Marisa, we both love incorporating Jewish characters into our stories. Would you like to share more about that passion and process?
MK: Of course, as it is only one of my favorite topics! Growing up, I only saw Jewish kids in stories existing in one of two contexts: as the sidekick in a contemporary setting, or in a concentration camp. It didn’t occur to me that Jewish characters could star in romcoms. So for a long time I kept Judaism out of my writing. What I Like About You is the fourth manuscript I wrote, but the first one with Jewish representation. I have not stopped writing Jewish characters since — and have zero plans to! If we do not write about our own joy, no one else will.
LS: This is so true! I had exactly the same experience growing up and with my own writing. My first published novel, Girl Out of Water, doesn’t feature any Jewish characters. Why is that? I’d never read a sweet summer novel with a Jewish character before, so why would it occur to me to write one? I’m grateful for how much that has changed since my 2017 debut. Every book I’ve written since then features Jewish characters, and I love being able to weave my culture into my stories.
MK: Same! And I have absolutely no intention of stopping any time soon. In terms of process, it is important to me to showcase diversity within Judaism. We are not a monolith. Every Jewish character in my story has their own personal relationship to Judaism. Some are secular. Some are more devout. Some grew up in Jewish communities. Some are consistently the only Jewish person in the room. Always, I aim to showcase that there are so many ways to be Jewish and that they are all valid.
I find myself drawn to different aspects of the Jewish experience depending on the story I’m writing.
LS: I love that. I also find myself drawn to different aspects of the Jewish experience depending on the story I’m writing. In my past novels, I explore the high holidays in You Asked for Perfect and Hanukkah (and the experience of being a Jew during Christmas) in Recommended for You. For Those Summer Nights, I was able to explore grief through the Jewish lens. Hannah’s bubbie passes away before the start of the novel, and so in the book we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish at Bubbie’s funeral and attend Bubbie’s unveiling. It felt incredibly special and emotional exploring these experiences I’ve personally had within the pages of my story. I’m really grateful to be able to bring those experiences to the page for readers.
MK: Those scenes were so beautiful, Laura! I explore Jewish grief similarly in my debut. In my sophomore novel, As If on Cue, my protagonist’s younger sister is preparing for her bat mitzvah and that was such a fun subplot to include — both from a representation standpoint and because I love any opportunity to force dancing onto my characters!
One of the many things that I loved about Those Summer Nights is that while of course there is an awareness of what it means to be a Jewish person in America, Hannah and the Jewish characters do not experience antisemitism on the page. Was that an intentional decision?
LS: A bat mitzvah plot is so much fun! I really want to do that one day as well. As for antisemitism on the page, I do explore some microaggressions in my novel Recommended for You. It takes place during winter break, and my character Shoshanna Greenberg ruffles feathers when she wishes people “happy holidays” instead of their preferred “Merry Christmas.” But you are correct, I don’t explore antisemitism in Those Summer Nights. I can’t say that it was an intentional decision per se, it just never felt like an organic part of Hannah’s story. Hannah grapples with countless problems over the course of the novel (the passing of her grandmother, the loss of her soccer career, a fallout with her best friend), but she’s also part of a diverse and inclusive community that never makes her feel othered because of her religion. Of course, antisemitism can be found in these communities as well, but a safe and welcoming space felt like the right atmosphere for Hannah’s story.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this as well. How and why did you choose to include antisemitism in your stories?
MK: You’re so right, Hannah is truly already going through enough!
If there was ever an intentional decision in my writing process, it was to not include antisemitism in What I Like About You because I wanted it to be a safe space for Jewish readers during a moment where we witnessed a sharp increase in overt antisemitism due to our elected officials emboldening it. I wanted Halle to meet other Jewish kids and have the Jewish community that I lacked growing up. Writing that aspect of the book was total wish-fulfillment, whereas Natalie’s experience with antisemitism and microaggressions in As If on Cue is a much closer reflection of my experience growing up in a community where I was often the only Jewish student in my classes. I take engaging with antisemitism in my work very seriously — to what extent very much depends on, similar to what you have said, the character’s journey and what makes sense for the story.
LS: And it’s so important for Jewish readers to have access to the full scale of these experiences on the shelves. They should have the option to pick up the safe space romcom or the romcom that engages with antisemitism.
Speaking of which, we’ve got to share some Jewish book recommendations.
I just finished reading Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. It was genuinely the best book I’ve read in years. It features two Jewish protagonists and follows their relationship over the course of decades as they come together and fall apart again and again over their shared passion of video game design. The book also has incredible chronic pain representation — I live with chronic pain myself, and I’ve never seen it portrayed so well and intimately on the page before. This book delivers everything you could ask for — laughter, heartbreak, excitement, depth. I couldn’t put it down, even though I wanted to savor it for as long as possible.
What Jewish book(s) do you recommend?
MK: I am so excited to read that one! While I am a firm believer that there can never be enough Jewish rep, I do feel like we are lucky to be publishing during a moment where there is so much more out there than the rep we had access to growing up! On the YA side, I am obsessed with anything by Rachel Lynn Solomon. Her latest, See You Yesterday, features two Jewish characters who get stuck in a time loop and fall in love while trying to figure out how to get out! For queer Jewish rep, I have never felt more seen than while reading Dahlia Adler’s Cool for the Summer, about a bi Jewish teen. And out later this year, I am so excited for Jake Maia Arlow’s YA debut, How to Excavate a Heart.
Laura, thank you so much for chatting all things Jewish feelings with me! I cannot wait for the world to meet the cast of Those Summer Nights and love them as much as I do. In the meantime, where can readers find you and this delightful book?
LS: Thank YOU Marisa! It’s always a joy to chat about your wonderful books! Readers can find more information about me and my books at my website LauraSilvermanWrites.com. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram at @LJSilverman1 and on TikTok at @Laura_Silverman. Those Summer Nights can be purchased anywhere books are sold.
And where can readers find more information about you and your books?
MK: You can learn more about me and my books at marisakanter.com and I am @marisakanter on Twitter and Instagram! Thanks again — this was such a blast!
Laura Silverman is a writer and editor. She loves books, dogs, and bubble baths. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. You can follow her on Twitter @LJSilverman1.
Marisa Kanter has worked in publicity for major publishers and covered YA books for MTV. Currently, she works in sales, on the distribution side of the publishing industry. She can often be found searching for the best iced chai in New York City, or reading on the 3 train. What I Like About You is her first novel.