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Light Years    by Tammar Stein order for
Light Years
by Tammar Stein
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Dov's death hits Maya Laor hard, and she blames herself for what happened. A bomb exploded at the Shtut restaurant, where Dov was waiting for her. Maya was on a bus running late because of heavy traffic. A busboy at Shtut's was fired when Maya reported to the manager that he had said nasty things to her. He became the suicide bomber, who caused the deaths of many. In her guilt, Maya shuts herself off from friends, much needed sleep, and the welcome packet from the University of Virginia sits unopened.

Four months later, Maya is on a flight from Israel to the United States, to study astronomy in Charlottesville, Virginia. She carries many ifs as baggage - 'If I called to say I was running late ... If I let Dov choose the place were we met ... If I never said anything to the manager'. During the flight, Maya's mind wanders and she reflects, 'I was headed someplace new and different. I prayed then, something I rarely did. I prayed on the plane for God to help me and keep me and make me whole again.' Settling in her dormitory room, Maya has already made up her mind to focus on her studies, not make friends, and avoid romantic relationships. She's homesick, despite having fled because she was 'sick of home'.

But however determined Maya is to move forward with pride in her Israeli heritage and hope for her American future, she is unable to escape memories of her boyfriend's violent death. Classmate Justin encourages her with his words, 'Accidents of timing happen everywhere. You ask someone to come over and they get hit by a car on the way. Does that mean you shouldn't have asked them over? Does that mean you shouldn't have any friends on the off chance they'll get hurt? You can't live like that ... There's no point to life if you take away all the beauty of friendships and love.' And her roommate Payton encourages her to get out more, to get involved.

Debut novelist Tammar Stein has written about relationships, finding friends when least expected, making painful decisions, and letting go of remorse. The story is written in the first person, seamlessly dividing chapters between Maya's past in Israel, and present in Virginia. Though Stein's story is heart-rending, at times there are too many trivial details. I also hoped for more on Maya's Israel army service, her studies, and on other characters, especially Yael (a woman from Israel whom Maya meets), Payton and Justin. However, Stein writes expressively with sensitivity to mourning and grief, and Light Years will appeal to teen readers interested in the Middle East.

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