Escape Route

Written by Elan Barnehama
Review by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Growing up in New York City in the late 1960s, 13-year-old Zach’s life is defined by his Jewish roots and the war in Vietnam. His grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, warns him to have an escape route ready in case the United States follows the path of Nazi Germany. But hormones can be very distracting, as Zach learns when he meets Samm at a party of his older sister’s hippie friends. The two fall in love and have sex, Zach’s best friend Jonah also finds a new girlfriend, and they become part of a tight-knit group that sees them through a difficult eighteen months. Along with growing conflict over the U.S.’s involvement in a distant war, Samm’s brother, a Marine war veteran, struggles with PTSD and leaves home to join an encampment of disillusioned veterans on Ellis Island, where Zach joins Samm in an ill-fated attempt to rescue him.

Escape Route immerses the reader in 1960s New York City and its anti-war youth culture. Barnehama seamlessly weaves folk and rock music into the story, a soundtrack central to the characters’ lives. It rings true to those who lived through it while introducing younger readers to a fascinating and troubling era with echoes in the present. Still, there is a gentleness to the narrative that captures the idealism of the time, and is above all a celebration of friendship and connection in the face of change. Though this coming of age story is written for adult readers, teens interested in the period will appreciate this exploration of family, faith, friendship, and first love.