Lowe, Mari

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk

(1) 4-6 This emotionally complex novel set within a contemporary Orthodox Jewish community is full of immersive Jewish detail--literally, as much of the story centers around the mikvah, or ritual bath, that eleven-year-old Aviva's mother has run since Aviva's father's death; mother and daughter now live in a "shabby little apartment" above it. Mischief happens often around the mikvah (a guest's candies get unwrapped, a door's hinges come unscrewed), and the culprit is apparently a dybbuk ("a soul that won't rest," though this version creatively inverts the usual definition) that only Aviva can see. When the dybbuk creates more serious trouble, including antisemitic vandalism, Aviva must confront painful truths about her perceptions (and thus what she has been presenting to readers) of her father's "accident," her family's circumstances, and her own actions. The book creates a strong sense of the protagonist's isolation--awkward, impetuous Aviva has difficult relationships with her classmates, and communication is strained with her mother, who lives with severe depression--but remains accessible while addressing its heavy issues. Unreliable narrator though Aviva ends up being, she’s a heart-rendingly sympathetic one.


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