Sunday, August 07, 2022

The Two Wrong Halfs of Ruby Taylor

Panitch, Amanda. The Two Wrong Halfs of Ruby Taylor
August 9th 2022 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Ruby and her cousin Sarah were close when they were younger, but as they enter middle school, Ruby is increasingly irritated by how "perfect" her cousin is, and also by the fact that their grandmother Yvette clearly prefers Sarah. She thinks it is because her mother is Catholic, and since Judaism is a matrilineal religion, Ruby isn't "as Jewish" as her cousin. Or, it could be because Ruby doesn't always think things through, which often results in incidents like all of the matzah balls for a catering job falling on the basement floor. When cleaning up from the incident, Ruby finds an old chest, but her grandmother tells her to never open it, because a dybbuk who was brought from the old country lives in it. Even though Ruby doesn't open it, she manages to get into a scuffle with Sarah, who trips over the chest and opens it. Dybbuks can't be real, so the two go about their lives without telling anyone. Ruby is excited that there is a new rabbi, and it's a woman. She expects her cousin to be excited as well, since the new rabbi agrees to start a junior chapter of the Sisterhood her grandmother belongs to, but soon her cousin is not only averse to the idea, but she's writing nasty notes to the new rabbi and egging her house. Yvette isn't as keen on the rabbi, since she feels that traditions should be maintained, and has long favored Ruby's brother. She also takes Sarah away from studying the Torah to help her cook. Could Sarah's new found rebellion be the influence of the dybbuk? And what family history must be uncovered before Sarah can be reclaimed?
Strengths: I liked that Ruby and Sarah were involved in groups at church, and that they went to the same school. A growing number of my students have a mix of family backgrounds,s so Ruby's feelings about being "too Catholic" for her Jewish side and "too Jewish" for her Catholic side will certainly resonate. There is a lot of intesting history of feminist thought, which is played out well in the modern day setting. The grandmother's attitude towards girls is also something young readers may see in their own families, but hopefully not as often as in years past. (Yvette must be... early 70s?) The dybbuk's possession of Sarah makes her do lots of things that are uncharacteristic, and it's interesting to see how Ruby is still willing to come to her cousin's aide even though they haven't been getting along, and also to see that Sarah is feeling that Ruby has been avoiding her. The Two Wrong Halfs of Ruby Taylor is a solid family story with an intriguing bit of magic in it. 
Weaknesses: I think I feel fundamentally differently about family than the author does. Your family doesn't have to like you or want to spend time with you just because you are related by blood. Maybe Sarah is just more fun for the grandmother to be around. Since I had 38 cousins, my grandmother wasn't all that interested in ME, even though my mother was very close to her. I suppose with smaller families, grandparents are expected not to play favorites, just like parents. I would argue that if you aren't a nice person, even your parents don't have to spend that much time with you!
What I really think: Like this author's The Trouble with Good Ideas, this is an interesting book with lots of Jewish culture, family dynamics, and magical realism. Since my students aren't too keen on magical realism, I may wait to purchase this title. 

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