Cover Image: The Way Back

The Way Back

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Member Reviews

Great story and loved the slight romance. Really enjoyed the characters and how the plot moved and how the characters changed throughout the book. I would read this author again.

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3.5 stars

*I received an ARC of this via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

This was an enjoyable reading experience, albeit a confusing one. It took a very long time (nearly half the book) for the plot to really get started which made this a pretty slow read for me.

The writing does make the atmosphere feel very fairy tale like which I enjoyed. The topics it explores and the fairy tale like feeling almost make it feel like a middle grade, but the actual writing and the pacing definitely suggests it's for older readers.

My issues stem from not understanding the characters motivations at all which was especially annoying because we spent all of the first half of the book setting up. I know that they are both dealing with grief, but the overall story felt so convoluted it was just so hard to understand where they were going. Yehuda Leib's motivation felt very weak and misguided which I could deal with, somewhat. But his decisions even within that didn't make sense to me. Bluma's motivations were even less clear to me. I did not understand why she was included in the book at all.

Overall this definitely had the atmosphere going for it and it's why I kept reading, but as a whole the story fell flat.

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The Way Back was one of my most highly anticipated reads of the year. As soon as I heard about it, I was sucked in. A Jewish book that uses Jewish folklore set in Eastern Europe? Yup!

I think what stood out to me most was just how wonderfully Jewish this book and story is. One of my pet peeves is when an author goes out of their way to translate a foreign language or explain a piece of their culture: this happens a lot in own voice . As a reader, I don’t want the author to do the explaining. I like having to look it up. I enjoy the learning process. I don’t need the author to explain everything to me because I feel like it’s on me as a reader to do the research, especially since the explaining often distracts from the story (in my opinion).

Savit doesn’t do much explaining. There’s elements of Jewish culture, Hebrew, and Yiddish that Savit doesn’t spend time explaining or translating. I liked that I had to translate the Hebrew. I enjoyed the transliterations. I appreciated having to do my own research on the demons.

Described as a historical fantasy, this book requires the reader to read it pretty closely. I must admit I had to reread sections when I noticed I got distracted, but it’s a great read.

Thank you to Netgalley and Knopf Teen for my eARC of this book.

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Yehuda Leib and Bluma have lived all their lives in the tiny shtetl of Tupik, somewhere in the woods of eastern Europe. Bluma’s father is a baker, and their home is warm and bright. Yehuda Leib scarcely remembers his father, though all the neighbors shake their heads and sigh when they speak of him. Right now, all anyone can talk about is the Rebbe of Zubinsk, who is about to preside over the wedding of his fifth granddaughter. It is to be a grand celebration, and the invitation is open to anyone who wishes to come.

This interests not only the people of the surrounding villages, but also the creatures who make their home in the Far Country, where time and space are different from the human world. The Far Country is the home of angels and demons, beings like Lilith, Lord Mammon, and the Dark Messenger, who take this rare opportunity of an open invitation to cross into the land of the living.

Bluma and Yehuda Leib both meet the Dark Messenger, and those meetings send them on the road to Zubinsk and on into the Far Country itself, where they will bargain with demons, discover secrets, and fight Death to make their journey back home.

The Way Back is a fantasy adventure that draws deeply on Jewish folklore. Readers unfamiliar with the supernatural figures will still be captivated by them, and sensory details provide a rich sense of atmosphere. Against the backdrop of a fantastic world that feels “long ago and far away,” Bluma and Yehuda Leib are realistic young adults, with flaws and gifts, people in search of home, love, and family.

This book was a 2020 National Book Award finalist in the Young People’s Literature category, and it is a strong contender for the Sydney Taylor Award for Young Adults. Religious and cultural Jewish content are central to the story, with characters drawing on their faith and rituals for power and strength. Dark topics are explored in a manner appropriate for teenage readers. Some readers may also be motivated to learn more about the figures of the Far Country. Fantasy adventure influenced by Jewish tradition is a rare find, and this is a distinguished contribution to the literature.

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Thank you to the publishers, author and NetGalley for the free copy of this book!

This was such a complex, detailed story. There were definitely a lot of intricacies that escaped me, not having an background in Jewish folklore or culture, but regardless I was hooked throughout. Definitely an intriguing read for all!

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I cannot deny that this book is different and beautifully crafted; the fantastical elements that sometimes leaned into horror reminded me of Pan's Labyrinth: surreal, intriguing yet unsettling in its atmosphere and otherworldliness. The Way Back follows two main characters as they travel from their simple hometown and make their way into the fantastical Far Country and return to their starting point transformed. It's a hero's journey that has been done many times before, but Gavriel's gorgeous writing and how he enriched this journey through a Jewish folklore lens made for one of the most unique reads I've have read this year. I totally understand why this book was shortlisted for the National Book Award and think it deserves praise.

While I can note all of these great qualities as book, as a reader who enjoys fully immersing herself in her reading and bonding with the characters, this was not a pleasurable read. It was intriguing and halfway through I was invested on how it would end, but it was a sloooow read not only because it was challenging in its themes and mythology, but I did not care much for the two main characters. I do not think I was the right reader for this book, and that is okay. I thought I saw somewhere that this may be classified as a middle grade book? I do not think I would agree with that conclusion and would, in my make-believe public library, place it in young adult.

Whether I found this book enjoyable or not. I will keep this book in mind for a reader interested in atmospheric, well crafted writing with a new spin on a hero's journey in a strange land.

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Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Way Back gives a voice we rarely see, a Jewish pair of preteens as they weave through a land of death, demons, and loss. A coming of age tale that is more about learning the lessons within rather than knowing what was truly going on. Our main characters are hard to connect with on a personal level for me, but they compelled me to keep reading, their voices and lessons begging to be heard. I did not grow up in a Jewish home so some of the vocabulary was forgien and perhaps didn't make as big of an impact on me. The story had many layers and perspectives so it was hard to follow in some points, but the writing was spectacular.

This book didn't feel like it was written for me, but I know that not every story is meant to feel that way. Different people relate and find themselves in stories I don't care for(but this is one I did care for, I just didn't really relate) and that's the point of story telling. The journey was one I'm glad I went on after all was said and done, and I would recommend this for anyone 14+ who love Old Country tales with demons and tricky deals.

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A fairy-tale like adventure story with immersive mythology and a richly imagined world. I would’ve liked some plot points and characterization to be clarified more, but this story was more about the journey, I think, than the where or the who, and from the perspective, it succeeded.

Can be bit dark for children, even though it has the tone of a middle grade novel. Content warning: death, dying, blood

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Gavriel Savit is an author who defies genre, reading age, and who writes timeless tales. I loved Anna and the Swallow Man and was so thrilled to see that he had written a new novel--and what a glorious novel it is.

We need more Jewish stories. I think I can honestly say that I have maybe only ever read one other novel in recent memory featuring Jewish characters that didn't center around the Holocaust (The Hired Girl). And while these Holocaust stories are crucial and so important, I did really enjoy learning about Jewish folklore I had not before heard of. Savit's gorgeous writing helped illuminate this world for me, and I was fascinated by it.

I love how YA writers have the marvelous ability to write about death. Just as well as Markus Zusak creates Death as a character, so does Savit here--though Savit's version is less benevolent. Two teens get caught up in a journey involving Death, one of them had something taken by Death while the other took one of Death's tools, and their stories become intertwined once they venture in the Far Country, where demons and spirits roam freely.

The book had me hooked from beginning to end, and I feel in love with these characters. I loved learning about Jewish folklore, especially in this context. It was a beautifully written story, and I felt so intrigued by the Far Country, every spirit/demon encountered, and what I would give to hang out in that amazing library! This is a book I can't wait to hand to my mature teens, who will clamor for the chance to read this marvelous novel.

Content warning: There is a lot of blood in this novel, but the novel doesn't feel gory. There is also a lot of death, which important within this context.

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This is a book that needs to be taught and discussed in classes or book clubs. It's absolutely stunning and may not be as deeply appreciated without conversation.

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2.5 stars
I have to say, I was confused for a lot of the story. I understood the overall plot, but so many details I didn't understand and I'm not sure what the main characters really accomplished at the end. It felt like we went in a giant circle and ended where we began. I think this is based on a Jewish folklore story, so maybe if I'd read that I would have understood this better?

We start with Yehuda Leib, a boy who one night is sent away by his mother so that he won't be conscripted into the military. He ends up running into the Angel of Death and gets started on a mission to save a special soul. We also have Bluma, the baker's daughter who comes into possession of one of Death's instruments and both characters end up in the Far Country, aka land of the dead and demons.

This is where I lost the story. The kids made a deal with demons, Yehuda Leib with a horrible Lord named Mammon and Bluma with Lilith and her sisters. They start a fight against Death, but things aren't as they seem and there are a lot of betrayals and misunderstandings. I'm not sure what came of the battle, other than the kids learned more about Death and the world.

There are some interesting parts and I liked the take on Death. Maybe I'll check out the folklore story and will gain some understanding.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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The story centers around an event -- the wedding of the rebbe's granddaughter. Yehuda Leib is traveling to Zubinsk to see the rebbe when he is waylaid by a dark stranger and enters the land of the dead. He encounters the demon Mammon and loses his memories of the living world.

For Bluma, cemetery gates are where the land of the living meets the land of the dead. She visits the graveyard and enters the "Far Country" with Lillith and her sisters (the Lileen). She is able to avoid the demons with the help of a magic spoon that makes her face unrecognizable.

Both Yehuda Leib and Bluma have lost a family member, and leaving the Far Country is a physical journey and a spiritual one. When the Angel of Death enters the realm of the living, the two children's stories converge.

The book is slower than I would expect from a spooky story for younger readers. It may not deter older teens, but younger teens may grow bored with the novel before the excitement begins. The main characters have hardly any backstory, so it's hard for the reader to become attached to them or care about their actions.

The tale reads like an unknown person telling you a story, or as if a campfire tale was put into written words. Gavriel Savit is a thespian, which explains the overall feeling of a storyteller as the narrator. It would have been interesting to hear the audiobook in his voice since he is a performer who knows the story better than anyone else.

Recommended for teens with longer attention spans who aren't afraid of ghost stories. Teens and adults with East European or Jewish heritage will identify with the story's foundations.

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This is a fairy tale set in Anatevka (well, not really, but a Russian Jewish village back in the 19th century with all the small town Russian Jewish trappings that you'd expect) that takes its protagonists into the realm of the fantastic and brings them into contact with Death. Literally. Death loses her death-spoon accidentally to Bluma, the girl protag, and is trying to get it back. Yehuda Leib (which is a name that belonged to a famous rabbi) discovers that his father has been taken by Death and is trying to get his father back, but ends up running afoul of a demon.

It's not a bad book by any means, but it's definitely a YA sort of book without much character depth and with a slow pace. Even the mythology of the Underworld didn't keep me interested enough to keep going, but that could be because I'm in a place where I want something that's really going to absorb me and a book that just kind of reads along without hooking me isn't going to do it.

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Splendid folklore. Precisely a Jewish folklore. This novel “The Way Back” by Gavriel Savit will make you very intrigue. Two young adults on a journey where demons and death itself are involved. A Dark theme novel that everyone craves.
I like how I was enlightened/drawn to a different culture through this novel. As I love learning new things I also love learning the different perspectives of people through their cultures. The novel was very informative in each character and place. I really like how the settings were rendered.
I like every character. They made me hate, empathy, and love some of the characters and that is what I like about it. I was too drawn on the journey of Yehuda Leib and Bluma—our two protagonists. They are both young and brave. Willing to do anything just to get what they want. One is chasing someone and the other one is running from someone. Two different journeys yet ending up in one place. Two different goals but end up needing each other's help.
A very beautiful and well-crafted novel from Gavriel Savit. I was hooked when I read the synopsis; while reading it does not disappoint and, after reading the whole novel I was grateful. The theme, the characters, and, the settings. I could not have asked for more. But if I did—a sequel would be great!

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I'm really excited for my children to read this book. Part fantasy, part myth, and written with the style that makes old chassidic Jewish stories so compelling. I found every sentence delightful.

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One of the most unique fantasy stories I've ever read. The storytelling reads almost like a fairytale and I loved the elements of Jewish folklore that are included. I also very much agree with the comments that fans of Neil Gaiman and Phillip Pullman will enjoy The Way Back.

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Fans of fantasy and folklore will relish “The Way Back” (Knopf, $18.99), Gavriel Savit’s mesmerizing tale of a young boy and girl on a journey toward home, underpinned by Jewish mysticism. Arriving on shelves Nov. 17, it’s already a finalist for the National Book Award. Children Yehuda Leib and Bluma each encounter the Angel of Death, setting them on a path that takes them through a richly drawn world of spirits and demons to get back to their home in Tupik, an Eastern European shtetl. Savit is skilled at creating remarkable characters and pacing his novel to the rhythms of traditional storytelling. And he has a gift for small, sweet moments of truth, like when Yehuda Leib remembers his father: “Sometimes he thought the memory felt holy because of the synagogue, and sometimes he thought maybe it was the other way around.” (Ages 12 and older)

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This was an interesting read. It's creppy, it's dark and amazing. I read a lot Neil Gaiman books and I love all of them, so when I saw that this book is for his fans, I had to request it. It does, indeed have a same vibe. I read it in a day. I think it's perfect for this cold days and I hope you'll find it comforting as I did.

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Happy Pub Day to The Way Back!

This fascinating new YA fantasy is based on Jewish folklore and follows two young people on their journey to Far Country—the realm of demon spirits—and their way back.

SUMMARY: Yehuda Leib and Bluma are having some issues with Death. Yehuda Leib wants his father back, while Bluma is stuck with Death’s instrument and doesn’t want to be found. Can these two make the right bargains, head in the right direction and end up in the right place at the end?

This was an interesting story with a strong magical bent. It’s meant for younger readers and has been likened to works by Neil Gaiman and Phillip Pullman but reminded me most of Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik.

I really liked what the book seemed to be saying about the transience of human life and how the path you take doesn’t matter to the degree you expect. I anticipate this National Book Award Finalist will stick with me a while.

I did find it a bit challenging to get into the rhythm of the story, but I wondered if that was related to the elements that were less familiar to me. For example, if I knew more about demonology, would it have been easier to follow?

Anyway, if you are looking for those magical vibes and/or journeys through the land of the dead, this book is for you! The mood is perfect for a cold winter night by the fire!


Thank you to @netgalley and @knopfteen for gifting me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

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This is my first time reading anything by Gavriel Savit – however, I've been hearing SO many nice things about The Way Back that I just knew I had to give this novel a try. Plus, this adventure is being positively compared to writing by Neil Gaiman and Phillip Pullman, so how could I possibly ever resist?

Demons and the dead are everywhere – though most stay contained in their own little world. With few excuses to ever cross the border, that is where they have little choice but to remain. That is, until a wedding invites all – no exceptions. That sounds like exactly the sort of excuse they have been looking for.

Two teenagers, both vastly different in experiences and temperaments, have found themselves on the wrong side of this particular adventure. Now their only hope is to find their way back, as the title itself states.

“She had seen the Angel of Death.
And her instrument was not a knife.
It was a spoon.”

The Way Back is arguably one of the most enchanting novels I've read in quite some time. The writing itself seemed to suck me in, while that brilliant world full of rich details kept me thoroughly trapped.

I mean that almost literally. It took days for my brain to be free of the world described within these pages. Some would call that a book hangover, and honestly, they wouldn't be wrong. But it felt different than that at the same time. There was just something so...captivating about the story and the setting itself.

“The young were nervous. The old were reflective.
Tupik was going to bury its dead.”

While the world itself (and the demons within), were plenty fascinating, that isn't the only thing I loved about this novel. For example, I adored the differing perspectives of the main character, Yehuda Leib and Bluma.

Their journeys were fascinating, and they felt so vibrant and alive. This is a story I'd honestly suggest to any teenager, young adult, or even adult to give a go. I can see why this world was so compared to the worlds created by Neil Gaiman and Phillip Pullman – it lives up to that statement. At least, it certainly did for me.

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