When did you stop feeling like a child?
The expectations for this book were sky-high. Its existence in my library reached me just I was about to move back abroad. The chances of my flight actually happening were slim due to the current situation. So either I finally move abroad after months of planning but forever wonder what this book contained, or my flight gets canceled and I get to read this book. I’m writing this review so you must know which of the two occurred.
The main reason for my sky-high expectations: the author of this book created one of the most piercingly honest TV shows I’ve seen this year, capturing the pain of growing up when everything around you is crumbling apart. Even show’s title manages to contain the delicate nature of the characters: One on One.
There’s always the dilemma of wanting to write what the thing is actually about, but then there’s this outcry inside of me that’s like “But it’s so much more than that!” The show might be about a tutor who helps 16-year-olds with their homework and prepping for exams, but it’s so much more than that! Sixteen-year-olds aren’t robots who just sit and learn, you get inside their world. Even more so, you get inside their head.
Matan Yair’s writing is an ode to the kids that drew inward when all they wanted was to shout aloud. It’s a cry for the child that once was. It’s the kind of writing I wish I had when I was younger. It would’ve brought me so much comfort. Knowing you’re not alone in your thought process. Yair’s writing catches those lingering thoughts that pass through in the moment, or just as you’re about to fall asleep, but by the time you sit down to write them down they have already left your mind. All that’s left in its wake is this empty space once filled with truth. He fills that space. He gives voice to those thoughts that feel impossible to explain in words. I found it quite brave how he’s willing to write down what we all think but never talk about. Because he never knows while writing if others think or feel the same. But we do! Feeling seen through the words of another character is what I crave when I read books. Like all the best teachers, the writer takes something complicated and simplifies it. Stay tuned for the list of recommendations coming your way at the end of this post. Fans of Jonathan Safran Foer and Stephen Chbosky will love this type of writing.
Yair observes the world through introspective characters; people-watching. And it goes to show his power because it’s been weeks and I still think about his words every other day. Being inside someone’s head is a lot more difficult to shake off than being amazed by a plot twist. It’s the character’s voice you hear when you go back to real life. They come to live inside your own head. Like listening to a great song. Even when it’s not on, it’s looping in your head. That’s what I love about this kind of writing: it breaches the fourth wall without meaning to. I always find that authors who write down their detailed thoughts succeed in relating more sincerely. The more specific, the more people know how to feel. There’s never any “Am I the only one who thinks or feels X?” His thoughts are loud in their honesty.
Knowing that, I still felt the same shock whenever I stumbled upon a passage that perfectly echoed my views. To see my own private thoughts shared by another person is another level of intimacy. Seen in the simple yet piercing truth that remembering how they were before hinders your view of them now. Or looking at someone you thought of before as so strong and coming to see them as just a person will silently break your heart. Or any passage he wrote about his mother, leaning on each other to get through the hard parts. He’s so in tune with other people. This is the kind of writing I’m keen on.
All of this became mirrored in the short entries read aloud by the main character (Motty). What makes the show feel so sincere and shine so brightly in my eyes is the deliverance by the actor, Tomer Capone. He makes the words feel that more intimate. You feel them. He makes them feel real. His performance mirrors the real meaning of bringing a character to life. I feel like you don’t even have to understand the language to feel the emotion when he reads.
When the show reached its last episode, I still felt so much of it. Those written pieces read aloud by Motty are the ones I wanted to hear more of. They lived inside my head. So I can’t even begin to capture the utter joy that hit me when I found the original book, published by the creator of the show years ago, that served as the basis for most of the entries read aloud. I want to share this piece below read by Motty, originally taken from the book, because his deliverance of it is on loop in my head (appears minute 18:27 in episode 8).
And Mom didn’t look like Mom. She looked like those kids who fall asleep in the living room and have to be taken back asleep to their room. I took off her glasses carefully, turned off the light and thought that if I had not been here no one else would have done it. That without me, mom would be left all alone.
That last line pierced me. (When you’re so passionate about someone’s work but you have to translate it yourself because there’s no English translation available – that’s when you know it’s real.)
This honesty is translated into the actions, too. Like, the little detail of Motty’s father tapping his finger, instead of keeping it still, as he’s trying to remember what to write down for his grocery list. Or Maayan walking back and forth on the dotted white line while waiting for Motty to finish his call. Or Motty scouring Maayan’s face for clues while waiting for her answer. And when she didn’t have an answer for him in the moment, she answers him in a later scene – it shows that she thought of him and his questions. Just like in real life. There’s so much more I can share, and it just goes to show the time and effort put in to make it all feel so vividly real through these minuscule details.
Though I was hesitant to write down my own thoughts – or rather, I wrote them down but felt hesitant to share them here. After reading the book, I recalled the piece of advice his father shared in the show: Don’t sit on a compliment. Matan Yair, I have nothing but compliments left for your writing.
Motty’s students slowly crept into my heart, as well. I can’t get over especially the quiet kid he tutors, who felt so real to me. He managed to display the difference between being shy versus being quiet. The scene that keeps flashing in my head is the one where Motty walks into the kid’s classroom for a couple of seconds, and you see the kid notice but not say a thing – he waits for Motty to notice him. And you feel the utter heartbreak when Motty leaves just as quickly as he came in, without noticing the kid. His eyes looked so hopeful to be seen. I think about him whenever I think about the show.
Speaking of, the book and TV show cover an interesting dynamic between Motty and the kid. We have Motty, who made it out the other end and is supposed to be more of a grown-up, tutoring the kid who’s right in the thick of it all. The kid on the show is essentially the boy in this book, observing the younger years of surviving through his parents break up. Writing this, I recall the line he wrote that I have to translate: The worst part when your parents break up is that nobody really cares and no one thinks it’s that awful… We don’t have a monument or a memorial and we’re all breathing but it is only as if. Words alone cannot reflect the pain, but the author succeeds quite exquisitely at the impossible time and again. The more you read his words and watch his works, you see the way they intertwine and it makes for quite the journey having one thing end only to see it begin in another.
Motty, though just as confused internally, finds closure in his emotionally-turbulent younger years through the teens he tutors now. Making them feel less afraid of all that they hold inside. Simply being there for them, listening to them talk, letting them know that he’s not bored or annoyed by them. Not walking away when they’re too much. They want to be fought over when they’re yelling at him to leave. They’re going through a lot and feeling a lot. That’s what Motty does so well. His sensitive and emphatic nature grants him what I like to call great psychology skills. He knows how to listen for the unsaid. He knows what they’re feeling because he felt it, too. In some sense, he’s in this stage where he’s supposed to an adult but he’s stuck in the past. How being stuck in the past after a loss feels a lot like being a sort of time traveler. So he gets them when most other teachers feel emotionally removed from their students. He has the kindest of hearts. His character legit restored my faith in men. Because with most male characters, when you read about them you know when you close the book that they will stay inside the story. Motty felt so real it hurt.
Adding to that, my favorite episode of the show has to be episode six because the chemistry between Motty and Maayan felt palpable. And they never even do anything explicit! You just feel it with how he looks up when she walks into a room, the shy smiles exchanged, and how he walks next to her hyper-aware of the space between them. I’m pretty sure you don’t even have to understand what they say because their body language speaks for itself. It’s noticing the unsaid. But then when you do listen to the way they speak to each other, it’s so respectful. Never pushing for details from the other, giving them the option to open up while letting the conversation flow, “Only if you want to tell me.” It’s those little things that make up their story, and I was eating it up. I want more of that!
Whelp, I didn’t think I’d have so much to say… But once I get talking about this show, I can’t seem to stop. There’s so much to feature. I stopped at nearly every chapter in the book to note down something meaningful that was said. It made me notice the thoughts I share here for everyone to read versus my real notes that have something to say about every chapter. It would make the review abnormally long to feature them all, so I just pick the pieces that moved me the most in the book. My notes look like I was writing a paper about this book. I haven’t felt this passionate about a book in ages. But there’s just so much to pay attention to, and I don’t want to forget anything written in these pages. I kept writing down his best lines so obsessively because deep down I really want my own writing to be able to reflect my thoughts just as honestly, no holding back. But it also made me think about how the author must also filter his own thoughts. That there’s a limit to how much he can share. But if he’s able to grant such an intimate view into daily life, I wonder what he would write if he was free to write anything, like in a journal. I would honestly read anything he writes, based on what this book provides. His words have made a home in my head.
I do want to add, anyone looking for more works with a similar atmosphere, check out On The Spectrum. I’ve attached the trailer below (with English subtitles), it captures the essence of the show quite spectacularly. I raved all about it here. Press the play button to view:
For books, I’d recommend any of the many books by Eshkol Nevo and Bound Up Soul by Lior Engelman.
The Last Interview by Eshkol Nevo is his latest and probably my favorite, paying attention to quiet truths and their impact on our daily lives – whether we avoid them or live by them.