Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Asking for Trouble, Aviva and the Dybbuk

Prineas, Sarah. Asking for Trouble (Trouble #2)
March 15th 2022 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After their adventure in Trouble in the Stars, Electra and Trouble are back on the Hindsight with Captain Astra. They have brought along the baby shapeshifter they rescued, who likes to assume the shape of a donut, so they call it that. When the Hindsight goes in search of the cargo ship the Skeleton, they are pursued by the StarLeague ship, Arrow, whose crew has been alerted to their actions due to Donut's shapeshifting. They find the cargo ship at the edge of the universe, but it's difficult to get the cargo off when the ship is wrapped in a blackdragon. They manage to complete their mission, but the Arrow is still stalking them. When Captain Astra tries to sell the supplies, the group meets Electra's mother, who tells them that her sister, Miracle, has also been taken by the StarLeague and forced into training as a cadet, just like Electra was. Electra goes back to the school to try to save her sister, but it's a little harder for Trouble to make it there. With the help of rats who get an identity chip for him (and program it with a fake identity!), he and Donut manage to make their way to the school. Trouble hopes to rescue some other children as well, since the academy procedures are very abusive. Trouble has embraced his human identity, shape shifting mainly when he is hungry and needs to scarf down a pillow, or when he needs to turn into the weapon form for which the Star League created him. He considers Captain Astra his mother, but will this change when he finds out even more secrets about his identity?
Strengths: It was interesting to see Trouble have to babysit another shapeshifter while he was still learning a bit about ontrolling his own powers and settling into his human form. Finding Electra's mother was fortuitous, and her desire to go back to the school and rescue her sister was understandable. The Hindsight's schedule is flexible enough for the two children to go on this mission while they are worried about what the appearance of blackdragons means for the StarLeague. There's plenty of action and adventure, and middle school readers who are always hungry will be sympathetic to Trouble's need to constantly eat! 
Weaknesses: This started with an overview of all of the crew of the Hindsight, who are a colorful bunch from a variety of backgrounds. I struggled to keep them all straight, and then they really didn't show up again in the book! N.B. I have never watched the first Star Wars movie beyond the cantina scene, so apparently my tolerance for a large number of alien life forms at once is pretty low!
What I really think: This is a great action oriented science fiction tale for readers who enjoyed Fry's Space Pirates, Lander's Blastaway, Emerson's Last Day on Mars and MacDougall's Mars Evacuees. There is always a need for more books like this for fans of Star Wars and Star Trek. It seems like there should be at least one more book. 

Lowe, Mari. Aviva vs. the Dybbuk
February 22nd 2022 by Levine Querido
ARC provided by the publisher

Aviva and her mother (Ema) live in a small apartment above the mikvah that is next door to their shul. Her mother, who was a teacher at Aviva's Orthodox Jewish school, took this position after an accident that claimed the life of Aviva's husband six years previously, and struggles with depression and borderline agoraphobia. Aviva helps her mother, but is very much impacted by her condition, and is further saddened by a recent break with her best friend, Kayla, although Kayla's mother is still very supportive. The other girls at school have sided with Kayla, and treat Aviva like an outcast. Also complicating Aviva's life is the fact that the mikvah is haunted by a dybbuk, a mischievous spirit of unknown origin who is unable to move on, and who frequently causes  minor destruction at the mikvah. As the Bas Mitzvah for most of Aviva's class approaches, the school plans a big party, but intends to have it be a mother-daughter event instead of a father-daughter event, in part because of Aviva's situation. After a tussle on the machanayim court (a game similar to dodgeball) between Aviva and Kayla that ends with another girl's nose being broken, the principal bans the two girls from trying out for the team, and assigns them the task of creating more excitement for the Bas Mitzvah Bash. The Orthodox community is also impacted by racial incidents, such as when newly poured cement outside the shul is inscribed with a swastika, and are on high alert. Kayla and Aviva work on the party, but the dybbuk is a constant presence and worry. Will the two be able to get past their differences in order to deal with the dybbuk, plan the Bash, and help Ema? And will secrets about Aviva's experiences dealing with her father's death finally come out?
Strengths: There are relatively few middle grade novels with Jewish main characters, and even fewer with Orthodox characters. Aviva's school, her mother's job with the mikvah, and details about dishes for kosher and nonkosher food were all interesting parts of the story, and I appreciated that the story was not about her preparing for her Bas  Mitzvah. The glossary of terms at the end was very helpful; I know we shouldn't need terms from other cultures to be defined, but since my students will most likely be unfamiliar with them, this is very helpful. The friend drama is always a good inclusion for middle grade stories, and the presence of the dybbuk adds interest as well. 
Weaknesses: The cover is not very appealing, and the text size in the ARC was very small. This shouldn't make a difference, but it does to my students. The way the dybbuk played out was interesting, but adding this seemingly fantasy element took away a little from the other storylines, although they were all woven together very cleverly.
What I really think: I'm always looking for books with cultural connections, and the Levine Querido imprint always brings out such intriguing choices. There are not as many titles with Jewish concerns as I would like to see. It's been a number of years since Perl's When Life Gives You OJ,  Ben Izzy's Dreidels on the Brain and Freedman My Basmati Bat Mitzvah. Aviva and the Dybbuk was somewhat similar to Panitch's The Trouble with Good Ideas (which involved a golem), but wasn't quite as appealing as Korman's Linked, which had a perfect balance of culture, school events, and humor. 

Ms. Yingling

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