Aviva vs the Dybbuk

aviva vs the dybbuk

A long ago "accident." An isolated girl named Aviva. A community that wants to help, but doesn't know how. And a ghostly dybbuk, that no one but Aviva can see, causing mayhem and mischief that everyone blames on her.

That is the setting for this suspenseful novel of a girl who seems to have lost everything, including her best friend Kayla, and a mother who was once vibrant and popular, but who now can't always get out of bed in the morning.

As tensions escalate in the Jewish community of Beacon with incidents of vandalism and a swastika carved into new concrete poured near the synagogue.so does the tension grow between Aviva and Kayla and the girls at their school, and so do the actions of the dybbuk grow worse.

Could real harm be coming Aviva's way? And is it somehow related to the "accident" that took her father years ago?

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk is a compelling, tender story about friendship and community, grief and healing, and one indomitable girl who somehow manages to connect them all.---from the publisher

171 pages                                       978-1646141258                                   Ages 8-12

Keywords: fantasy, Jewish fiction, religion, prejudice, friends, friendship, community, grief and healing, death and dying, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old


Aviva and her mother (Ema) live in a small apartment above the mikvah that is next door to their shul. Her mother, who was a teacher at Aviva's Orthodox Jewish school, took this position after an accident that claimed the life of Aviva's husband six years previously, and struggles with depression and borderline agoraphobia. Aviva helps her mother, but is very much impacted by her condition, and is further saddened by a recent break with her best friend, Kayla, although Kayla's mother is still very supportive. The other girls at school have sided with Kayla, and treat Aviva like an outcast. Also complicating Aviva's life is the fact that the mikvah is haunted by a dybbuk, a mischievous spirit of unknown origin who is unable to move on, and who frequently causes minor destruction at the mikvah. As the Bas Mitzvah for most of Aviva's class approaches, the school plans a big party, but intends to have it be a mother-daughter event instead of a father-daughter event, in part because of Aviva's situation. After a tussle on the machanayim court (a game similar to dodgeball) between Aviva and Kayla that ends with another girl's nose being broken, the principal bans the two girls from trying out for the team, and assigns them the task of creating more excitement for the Bas Mitzvah Bash. The Orthodox community is also impacted by racial incidents, such as when newly poured cement outside the shul is inscribed with a swastika, and are on high alert. Kayla and Aviva work on the party, but the dybbuk is a constant presence and worry. Will the two be able to get past their differences in order to deal with the dybbuk, plan the Bash, and help Ema? And will secrets about Aviva's experiences dealing with her father's death finally come out?

Strengths: There are relatively few middle grade novels with Jewish main characters, and even fewer with Orthodox characters. Aviva's school, her mother's job with the mikvah, and details about dishes for kosher and nonkosher food were all interesting parts of the story, and I appreciated that the story was not about her preparing for her Bas Mitzvah. The glossary of terms at the end was very helpful; I know we shouldn't need terms from other cultures to be defined, but since my students will most likely be unfamiliar with them, this is very helpful. The friend drama is always a good inclusion for middle grade stories, and the presence of the dybbuk adds interest as well.

Weaknesses: The cover is not very appealing, and the text size in the ARC was very small. This shouldn't make a difference, but it does to my students. The way the dybbuk played out was interesting, but adding this seemingly fantasy element took away a little from the other storylines, although they were all woven together very cleverly.

What I really think: I'm always looking for books with cultural connections. It's been a number of years since Perl's When Life Gives You OJ, Ben Izzy's Dreidels on the Brain and Freedman My Basmati Bat Mitzvah. This was somewhat similar to Panitch's The Trouble with Good Ideas (which involved a golem), but I'm looking for more titles like Korman's Linked, which had a perfect balance of culture, school events, and humor.

Recommended by:  Karen Yingling, Teacher Librarian, Ohio USA

See more of her recommendations:  msyinglingreads.blogspot.com

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