Review: Dancing at the Pity Party

Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Judith S. Greenblatt

Tyler Feder got it right. Her graphic novel “Dancing at the Pity Party: a Dead Mom Graphic Memoir” is first and foremost honest about a subject we shy away from discussing.

In the spring of Tyler’s sophomore year at college, her very special Mom, aged 47, dies. We are told the whole story in this book that is also heart felt and heart warming, very sad, and very funny. Yes, you will cry, but you will also laugh. We meet Tyler’s Mom, then follow the unfolding story, from first symptoms to diagnosis, death, burial, and, importantly, forever after, including those important firsts in the new and strange world of no Mom.

This is a warm and loving family, portrayed with all its quirks. We learn what about Mom’s illness and death, but even more important we get to know Tyler’s and her family’s responses. A wonderful, refreshing honesty can be felt throughout the book, providing information about specific circumstances. But more important, it gives a clear picture of Tyler’s emotions and reactions. If you have not had a major loss, you will gain insight into the world of those who have; if you have, you will find a kindred spirit in a world that does not want to think about death, let alone discuss it. Tyler also provides summary pages of do's and don’t's for those trying to help, and of remedies that actually worked for her and might also work for others. These are an outstanding addition to the book, as are other summary pages, one of which is titled "how to make a good cry A GREAT CRY."

Words are important in this book, but they are only part; the illustrations complete it. Filled with wonderful detail, the illustrations quietly add even more to our picture of Tyler and her family.

While Tyler is not a regular synagogue-goer, Judaism is an assumed part of her life; there are casual references to it throughout the book. However, there is more to the family's relationship with Judaism than the causal reference to bagels and lox. She knows and respects the clergy of her synagogue, she helped with the youth choir. Most significant is the discussion of practices relating to death and funerals. While these practices are somewhat different across denominational lines, what is presented in Dancing at the Pity Party is in accordance with much of Jewish practice, providing insight into a largely unknown world.

Entirely suitable for YA collections in both language and illustration, adults can also learn much from this book. Highly recommended.

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Reviewer Judith S. Greenblatt says: I hold a Master of Library Service from Rutgers-The State University, and a Master of Arts in Jewish Studies from Hebrew College, Newton, MA. I started my career as a Judaic Librarian as Librarian at the Michael Lichtenstein Memorial Library, Temple B'nai Israel, Toledo, Ohio. Subsequently I was Librarian at Temple Sinai, Cranston, RI, Congregation Mishkan Tefila, Brookline, MA, and finished as Director of Library Services at the Bureau of Jewish Education of Rhode Island. I have been a member of the Association of Jewish Libraries since 1977, served on and chaired the Weine Cataloging Revision Committee, and served as Vice President and President of the School, Synagogue and Center Division of AJL. Publications include: 1985-86 Book lists; for young children, for 3rd to 6th graders, for young adults. Annotated. Women's League for Conservative Judaism, 1986. 100 Plus Books For The Children's Library: A Basic Collection. Revised in cooperation with the Publications Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries. Association of Jewish Libraries, 1989. Weine Classification Scheme for Judaica Libraries. Revised by Judith S. Greenblatt, Chairman. 8th edition. Association of Jewish Libraries, Synagogue, School and Center Division, 1994.