Review: Rebecca Reznik Reboots the Universe

Rebecca Reznik Reboots the Universe

by Samara Shanker

Atheneum Books for Young Readers (imprint of Simon & Schuster), 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Rebecca Klempner

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Rebecca Reznik Reboots the Universe is a sequel to Naomi Teitelbaum Ends the World. It follows Becca Reznick, a supporting character in Book One. While the plot focuses again on fantasy elements from Jewish legend and folklore, the focus of this book is the significance of becoming “a spiritual adult” after one reaches bar or bat mitzvah.

Early on in the book, Rabbi Levinson visits the kids' post-b’nai mitzvah class at Hebrew school. He suggests that having reached their teenage years, the members of their class are developing the ability to see morality with greater nuance and subtlety.

Becca struggles with this as a young person on the autism spectrum. Despite her age, she tends to see issues as black and white. Does this mean that she’s doomed to remain immature?

Since the events of the last book—which took place right before Becca, Naomi, and their third best friend, Eitan had their b’nai mitzvah—Naomi has received additional golems. She has refused to wake them up. Instead, the friends bury the clay figures in Naomi’s back garden. Becca, Naomi, and Eitan have been avoiding magic.

Then why does Becca itch so much, itch in the same way as the friends felt while performing magic with the golem last year?

Soon, Becca captures a mazzik in her room. It’s just the first of a series of unwelcome magical visitors. Who is sending them, and why? The remainder of the book details Becca, Naomi, and Eitan’s quest to find the answers to these questions. Along the way, Becca will discover what spiritual maturity means to her.

As in the previous volume of this series, author Samara Shenker has created a realistic depiction of contemporary Judaism despite the fictional nature of this novel. These are clearly characters who participate in a vibrant Reform or Conservative community. I admire, too, her ability to depict a world in which the magical systems rest entirely on Jewish rather than Christian motifs and traditions. This book might be for tweens (more on that below), but Shanker thoroughly researched Jewish folklore and religious traditions and it shows. Shanker also explains everything clearly. A reader with no Jewish background might not get every allusion or inside joke, but they will be able to follow the plot and get a lot of Jewish worldview, too. I very much enjoyed references not only to Jewish folklore, but to the classic picture book, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins.

The book started slowly, but I was so charmed by the worldbuilding that I stuck with it. There’s nice LGTBQ+ representation in Naomi’s family without the book being about LGTBQ+ issues. There’s brief and non-specific discussion of puberty and sexuality, totally age-appropriate and handled with humor. A caution: The book contains a hair-raising section involving a sibling who (while possessed by a dybbuk) acts increasingly aggressive. The dybbuk torments an animal. That last detail made me wonder if this book might be better as a young YA than a middle-grade read, appealing to a slightly older audience than Naomi Teitelbaum.

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Reviewer Rebecca Klempner is a writer and freelance editor. Kalaniot Books recently published her picture book, How to Welcome an Alien. Her other books include A Dozen Daisies for Raizy, Glixman in a Fix, and Adina at Her Best, the last of which was a PJ Our Way selection.


  1. Thank you for this review and for the caution for more sensitive readers. A definite series for me to check out. Love the cover illustration too!


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