Israeli author wins Sydney Taylor Award for YA novel on Orthodox teens

Titled 'The Last Words We Said,' the book was written Leah Scheier, who made aliyah from Baltimore in 2008 and currently lives in Modi'in.

 Leah Scheier. (photo credit: Sharon Ben Shabat)
Leah Scheier.
(photo credit: Sharon Ben Shabat)

A young adult (YA) novel about Orthodox Jews written by an Israeli author has won the prestigious Sydney Taylor Honor Award for Young Adult Literature.

Titled The Last Words We Said, the book was written by novelist and pediatrician Dr. Leah Scheier, who made aliyah from Baltimore in 2008 and currently lives in Modi'in. 

The novel tells the story of modern Orthodox Jewish teenagers dealing with the disappearance of one of their friends and tackles themes of mental health and tragedy rocking their community.

The emphasis on mental health builds on themes of Scheier's previous books, which received acclaim for their sensitive depictions of schizophrenia and the autistic spectrum. 

"While the novel is intended for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences alike, I hope the Sydney Taylor Award will bring it to the attention of Jewish educators and librarians and will give Jewish teens the pleasure of seeing their own community respectfully and accurately depicted," Scheier said. "Representation is so important especially now, with the rise in antisemitic speech and attacks in the US and abroad."

 Jane Yolen. (credit: Courtesy of Jason Stemple and Penguin Random House/JTA) Jane Yolen. (credit: Courtesy of Jason Stemple and Penguin Random House/JTA)

The Sydney Taylor Awards recognize excellence in Jewish children’s literature. This year's Body-of-Work award was won by Jane Yolen, the acclaimed and prolific children’s book author whose oeuvre of more than 400 books includes the bestselling Holocaust time-travel novel The Devil’s Arithmetic.

Penny Schwart/JTA contributed to this report.