Review: The Trouble with Good Ideas

The Trouble with Good Ideas 

by Amanda Panitch

Roaring Brook Press (imprint of Macmillan) 

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Rachel Simon

Leah Nevins is going through a lot of change. She and her parents have moved to a new town, where her Zaide (her great-grandfather) lives, and she has to switch from her familiar Jewish day school (Solomon Schechter) to a public school. She’s struggling to make friends. And now she’s struggling because she overhears her parents wanting to put Zaide in an assisted living home. He’s sometimes forgetful and confused, but Leah doesn’t want to lose one more thing. With the story Zaide told her of the Prague Golem during the Holocaust, she creates one of her own in Zaide’s backyard. Named Elsa (yes, like the Disney princess), she instructs it to protect Zaide. But soon, Elsa is taking over Leah’s life and Leah must figure out how to protect herself from her creation.

The book offers a strong portrayal of Judaism from Leah’s family gathering every Shabbat at Zaide’s with her cousins, to her general upbringing, as well as Zaide’s story of the Holocaust, and of course, the golem. It also deals with antisemitism from Leah’s classmates, which can be heavy handed. The book deals with many Jewish characters and topics, though sometimes veers into a didactic tone that may weaken its chances for award recognition. The creepiness of the golem will appeal to readers who enjoy scary stories.

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Rachel Simon is a youth services library assistant at the Newton Free Library in Newton, MA. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award committee. She has her M.L.I.S. and Master’s in Children’s Literature from Simmons University.