Aviva vs. the Dybbuk by Mari Lowe

Published by Levine Querido

Summary:  Aviva is an introverted 11-year-old whose mother, Ema, struggles with depression, but her life hasn’t always been that way.  Before her father’s accidental death, both she and Ema were a lively part of their Orthodox Jewish community.  Now the two of them live in a tiny apartment above the mikvah, a women’s ritual bathing house that her mother takes care of.  The mikvah is also home to a dybbuk, a mischievous spirit that only Aviva can see.  While Aviva and Ema have been immersed in grief for the last five years, things begin to change when Aviva starts sixth grade, as a renewed friendship with Kayla and her mother opens up new possibilities.  A final, frightening showdown with the dybbuk helps Aviva to come to terms with her grief, allowing her and her mother to begin to move forward.  171 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This debut novel is beautifully written, exploring the emotions of grief and trauma, as well as the antisemitism directed at the Orthodox Jewish community.  This strong community, especially the women, makes for an inspiring cast of characters with language, rituals, and traditions expertly woven into the story.  I’ve seen this book on a few Newbery prediction lists.

Cons:  This book reminded me of last year’s Newbery honor book Too Bright to See: in both cases, the first few chapters felt so depressing that I almost gave up.  I was ultimately glad I stuck with both books, but kids might need some extra encouragement to keep reading.

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