Review: Abby, Tried and True

 Abby, Tried and True

by Donna Gephart

Simon & Schuster

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Judith S. Greenblatt

Donna Gephart has built an audience that awaits each of her books. In this latest of her books she tackles important difficult subjects. One concern is the self-image of an introvert, the other is the effect of life-threatening illness on not only the ill person, but the whole family. 

Almost twelve year old Abby is an introvert who has one friend. Unfortunately, that friend, Catriella, is moving to Israel. Her house next door is rented and eventually Abby allows herself to become friends with her new neighbor, Conrad. Abby’s beloved older brother Paul is diagnosed with testicular cancer. Abby, her Moms, the extended family and Paul’s friend Ethan work together to get through Paul’s diagnoses, surgery and chemotherapy. Abby is supported by Catriella via text and phone and Conrad, and helped by talking to her pet turtle, and by writing poetry. 

Cancer is a hard to talk about: this book, which includes careful explanations, both of medical issues and the different ways people react, can enable middle schoolers to understand, and open up a conversation. The book is also about Abby’s growth in her seventh grade year. She gains confidence, learning to see that her quietness and sensitivity, one part of her personality, can be plusses. She is also empathetic and brave. Paul also develops over the course of his difficult treatments and the task of learning to live after cancer.

Abby, Tried and True is Jewish from the beginning. From the names of the main characters, Braverman and Wasserman, to the fact that best friend Catriella, better know as Cat, is about to move to Jerusalem. Brother Paul, who has discovered a lump on his testicle, has his first appointment with the urologist on Rosh Hashanah. The effect of the tension this creates on the way the holiday can be celebrated is apparent. Thereafter, Abby tries to atone for her sins by doing what she can to help Paul. Knowing in the logical part of her brain that it is not true, she fixates on her failure to put up her birthday present mezuzah as the reason for Paul’s illness. The family practices Judaism in its own way: it is as much a normal part of the life of this family as eating and sleeping, including an acceptance of intermarriage. Abby’s Moms are intermarried, and her boyfriend Conrad is not Jewish. Many traditional rituals are not practiced in Abby’s family, but the values of the importance of family, and concern for and sensitivity to others are. 

Over the course of the year, Abby comes to see her own sensitivity as a strength, and does her utmost to help her brother. A touching story with strong Jewish values that highlights a difficult topic.