Jerusalem is one of the most historical, spiritual, and contentious cities in the world. Hardly a week goes by that it doesn’t show up in the news in some complex context. But it is also a home to almost million people, each caught up in the drama of their own lives and stories.
And it is the setting for Parallel Lines, a young adult novel that centers on three teenagers, each from a very different community. Tamar is a 16-year-old girl from a secular family who sings in a band at school. Rivki is part of a Haredi community in which cell phones and the internet are strongly discouraged, and women are expected to marry young and financially support their husbands. Nour, from East Jerusalem, admires her Hebrew teacher, is wary of her activist American cousin Fadwa who is staying at the family home, and dreams of a career in fashion design, despite the fact that her father is pushing her to go in for something more reliable, like pharmacy.
Though all three are citizens of the same city, their lives play out in very different settings with differing limitations, opportunities, and expectations. Told in rotating chapters, in Parallel Lines Eglash has skillfully built each of their worlds to draw the reader into the very different realities of their lives. Her primary tools here are plotting and character (as opposed to say, language and voice). This, for example, is from a chapter about Nour:
“People said Nour looked exactly like Mama. They shared the same ebony eyes, but Nour spent hours taming her own thick mane with a mix of sprays and flat irons, forcing it to hang sleekly down her back. She was still undecided if she wanted to cover her head with a hijab like Mama did when she went out, and was grateful that her parents did not pressure her like some of her friends’ parents did. Mama said the hijab was a personal choice and maybe when she was older and wiser, she would change her mind and embrace the tradition.”
And here is Haredi Rivki dealing with a very different set of issues regarding her clothing:
“Small beads of sweat trickled down slyly behind the high neck of her polyester blouse and wet patches began forming under her arms, as her skin tried to breathe beneath long sleeves that clung to her skinny wrists. Rivki’s legs were also covered and, in the intense heat, her nylon stockings, despite being the thinnest she could find, started to itch. All she wanted to do was stop and scratch, scratch, scratch. She hated being in the sun for too long. She also hated that every inch of her body, bar face, and hands, was completely covered up.”
Yet these issues play out against a backdrop of the very real tensions of the city, which each of the girls experiences on an almost daily basis.
“Most nights, Tamar would vacate the family room straight after dinner, leaving her parents glued to the TV set . . . But tonight, she needed to see for herself what was going on. She needed to know every microscopic detail of the attack at the train stop. She wanted to understand what this conflict was between Israelis and Arabs. . . . A pleasant-faced reporter stood clutching a microphone, and the camera panned quickly from him to the platform . . . A young mother and her baby were killed, he said, and the car was driven by a Palestinian man. ‘A mehabel,’ he informed viewers. The Palestinian man lived somewhere Tamar had never heard of, but her dad mumbled, ‘It’s not too far, just the other side of Jerusalem.’”
Eglash explores these tensions head on in scenes that deal with harassment, interracial dating, extremism, racism, and terrorism. While keeping an even-handed tone, the book skillfully depicts the stories of young people confronting the problem of how to live in a violent and conflicted society while at the same time, trying to work out the fine points of their own identities. This masterfully written book doesn’t flinch from the violence, but also shows the possibility of overcoming trauma and finding fulfillment. Though written before the Oct. 7th massacre of Israelis and the subsequent war in Gaza, many of its insights and conclusions continue to ring true.