Aviva vs. the Dybbuk

 
4.0 (2)
 
0.0 (0)
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Aviva vs. the Dybbuk
Author(s)
Age Range
8+
Release Date
February 22, 2022
ISBN
978-1646141258
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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.

Editor reviews

2 reviews
Orthodox Jewish Characters in a Well-Developed Fantasy
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
N/A
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?
Good Points
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.

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). Another good title to check out is Korman's Linked, which had a perfect balance of culture, school events, and humor.
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Grief can take many shapes.
(Updated: April 02, 2022)
Overall rating
 
4.0
Plot
 
4.0
Characters
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
N/A
What worked:
Dybbuks are mischievous spirits, and Aviva’s dybbuk appeared after her father died in an accident five years before. She’s often questioned about strange happenings around her home, since she’s the only one able to see the dybbuk. Stories of the dybbuk attract some interest from classmates, but it doesn’t really help with her popularity. Slippery floors, falling shelves, and random messes are attributed to the dybbuk, who Aviva sees as a young boy, about her own age. Most of the pranks are harmless, but they start to escalate as the plot moves along.
The story is fully immersed in the Jewish culture. Aviva attends a Jewish school and community, and her mother runs a small mikvah where people take cleansing baths. Community members come to worship in the shul next door, but along with the mikvah, they become targets for racial tensions. In school, the students learn Hebrew, and Aviva and Kayla are especially talented in a dodgeball-like game called machanayim. A major event in the lives of young Jewish girls is the Bas Mitzvah, and it becomes a climactic moment in the plot.
The book addresses grief, mental health, racism, and friendship, common issues that young readers might witness or experience. Ema, Aviva’s mother, used to be a well-liked, outgoing elementary teacher, but her personality drastically changes when her husband dies. Aviva often finds her staring blankly into space, and she rarely smiles or leaves the apartment. Kayla used to be Aviva’s best friend, but something happens to change that relationship. Maybe it’s the death of Aviva’s father or the change in her mother’s behavior. Maybe it’s something else. Aviva finds herself isolated from friends and must eventually face her own demons.
What didn’t work as well:
The book uses many Jewish terms that aren’t always easy to define using context. The vocabulary makes the story more authentic, but it could present difficulty for young readers. A glossary with definitions can be found in the back, but readers rarely skip to the end when reading fictional books.
The Final Verdict:
Grief can take many shapes. The early part of the plot isn’t as engaging as the latter half, but the overall story is an emotional journey to healing. It presents some serious topics that may benefit young readers.
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