Don't Let Me Go

Young Adult - Social Issues
288 Pages
Reviewed on 03/12/2021
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite

Don’t Let Me Go by Jamila Mikhail is an enchanting take on the young adult genre as it features an inanimate toy soldier that not only comes to life but has an existential crisis as well. Here we have a young girl named Joanie, who is struggling to make sense of her parents’ divorce and having difficulty adjusting to the new relationships that her mom and dad found respectively. This turns her life upside down, and she finds herself isolated in the town of Bluepond, where the only true friends she has are her dolls. She has a passionate interest in crafting dolls ranging from film characters, soldiers, and people she meets on a daily basis. Among her masterpieces, Adler, a Wehrmacht soldier and member of the German Resistance, is the most beautiful and most detailed. She is in complete awe of him and one day he comes to life! It appears that Adler is a Keeper—a soul from a different existence who comes into the metaphysical world to provide guidance for fellow humans. Their friendship is then challenged by both physical and metaphysical elements that influence the course of their lives.

Reading Don't Let Me Go will make you wish that the story never ends, but you also want Joanie and Adler to find the meaning that they have been looking for. Jamila Mikhail has managed to weave questions and concerns into a plot for this fairy tale. On top of that, she does not want her readers to be limited to being entertained; she provides relevant reading questions at the end of the story as a form of self-evaluation to see if you learned anything from the book. While stories about toys or puppets coming to life have been done before, Don't Let Me Go treats you to elements that will surprise you with the philosophical and spiritual blending to break what is predictable. It is a disservice to simply call this young adult fiction for it offers something far more than fantasy and entertainment.

K.C. Finn

Don't Let Me Go is a work of fiction in the social issues, interpersonal drama, and magical realism sub-genres, and was penned by author Jamila Mikhail. The work is intended for young adult and adult reading audiences and contains some references to violence and the Holocaust, but no graphic material. Our protagonist is Joanie, a contemporary teen who buries herself in her hobbies when the resultant trauma of her parents’ ugly divorce gets her down. But when one of the models she loves to make comes to life, Joanie discovers a whole new bond with Adler, a soldier from the German Resistance in the Second World War. What results is a very engrossing coming of age tale that is sure to keep readers turning the pages from cover to cover.

Author Jamila Mikhail has crafted a touching and poignant work of fiction with plenty of dramatic highs and lows to offer its readers. One of the features which I found particularly impressive about this piece was its deep emotional resonance and commitment to realistic feelings, even in a supernatural and quirky plotline. Adler is a fascinating character who holds up a mirror to Joanie’s own struggles and their bond is well penned to develop into something truly powerful by the novel’s end. I feel that young adult readers will empathize closely with Joanie, whilst older readers will admire the parallelism in the historical references and the trials of modern life. Overall, I would highly recommend Don't Let Me Go to readers of historical and contemporary mash-ups, realistic supernatural elements, and for emotive drama fans everywhere.

Tammy Ruggles

Don't Let Me Go by Jamila Mikhail is a unique and inspiring young adult drama. Joanie is the protagonist, an average teenage girl going through an angsty time. Her parents are divorced, her mom is with another man, and her father has a new family. Feeling lonely in a new place called Bluepond with no friends, she loses herself in her hobby, which is creating toy models of soldiers. But she isn't prepared when one comes alive. This throws her into trying to sort out mysteries that present themselves each day. She begins to trust Adler, who is a Wehrmacht lieutenant and part of World War II's German Resistance. Like Joanie, Adler has to adjust to change and seeming invisible to most people. Together they battle wars all their own, tangible and intangible. Joanie's mission is to mend her fractured life, and Adler's is to find his place in this new world.

Mikhail presents a premise that is different as well as intriguing--not the average plot you find in a YA novel. Joanie is a character most young audiences can relate to, and those who are familiar with the concept of imaginary friends, psychological escape, or coping mechanisms can appreciate what's going on with Joanie and the plot. She leans on Adler to get by, but he has issues too. The author choosing to use first-person POV is good, as we are immediately immersed in Joanie's headspace. This character-driven drama does its job of taking readers on a journey, and you can't really predict what will happen next. Mikhail is successful at balancing plot with subtext, exterior conflict with interior conflict, and character development. The questions at the end are a nice touch--just right for a classroom or book club discussion. If you're looking for something fresh and meaningful in a YA novel, Don't Let Me Go by Jamila Mikhail would be a perfect choice. Fans of Marwen will appreciate this book.