Review: Aviva vs. the Dybbuk

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk

by Mari Lowe

Levine Querido, 2022

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Leah Cypess

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Aviva lives with her mother in the apartment above the town’s mikvah (ritual bath). Aviva’s mother never leaves the apartment, and Aviva herself leaves only to go to school, where she has no friends but is at least good at sports. At home, she does her best to care for her mother, who has sunken deeply into depression since her father died. On top of all that, she has to deal with an exasperating dybbuk – a sometimes friendly, sometimes vengeful spirit who delights in wreaking havoc upon Aviva’s careful, quiet life.

When rivalries at school begin to spiral out of control, and vandalism of the synagogue fills the Jewish community with fear, Aviva may be the only one who can make things right. But first she will have to face some hard truths about her present, her past, and what the dybbuk really wants.

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk is a gem of a middle grade book. The fully fleshed-out characters are drawn lovingly and sensitively. Events move swiftly, creating a fast-paced narrative counterpointed by the slow, exquisite revelation of Aviva’s situation. The true role of the dybbuk comes into view so expertly and subtly that the reader might not even realize at what point the truth becomes clear. Yet when the characters realize what the dybbuk really is, it still packs a punch.

In addition to being a well-crafted and beautiful book, this story provides a rare and much-needed form of Jewish representation: an authentic story about an Orthodox Jewish girl that is steeped in her lifestyle without being about that lifestyle. It should be a very strong contender for the Sydney Taylor Award.

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Reviewer Leah Cypess is the author of the SISTERS EVER AFTER series of fairy tale retellings; the next book in the series, GLASS SLIPPERS, will be published in April 2022 by Delacorte Press. Leah also writes Judaica books under the pen name "Leah Sokol." Her most recent Judaica book, YOU CHOOSE: THE SPANISH PLOT, was a PJ Our Way selection in February 2021.