Aviva vs. the Dybbuk is a story of a girl who has lost her father and is trying to make peace with how her life has changed since that day. When Aviva’s father, the shamash who managed the local Orthodox synagogue, dies, Aviva’s mother becomes so upset that she refuses to leave the house. Their home is the local community mikvah, which also seems to house a dybbuk who only Aviva can see, causing trouble for Aviva and her mother. A dybbuk is, in Jewish folklore, a wandering soul. Throughout the story, Aviva attempts to find ways to free herself of the dybbuk.
Aviva has also lost her close friendships and feels very much alone. Due to an unfortunate incident, Aviva must plan a school event, at the insistence of her school’s administration, with her former best friend and current nemesis. Through their work together, the revelations shared as they work on the project, and the unexpected surprises they come across, they rediscover their friendship.
Aviva’s family and community are all Orthodox Jews. Many Hebrew or Yiddish terms are used throughout the book, and there is a glossary at the back that explains what they mean. Along with the strong theme of friendship, which is heavily emphasized, there are also antisemitic incidents that occur. The mysteries surrounding Aviva’s father’s death and her mother’s extreme fears gradually become clear.
The book ends on a positive note, showing how a whole community, both Jews and non-Jews, can work together to make things better. In the process, Aviva gains friends and peace.
Cindy Wiesel is an English teacher in Israel and leads a weekly book club for adults. She has edited teacher resource materials and served as a collection advisor to school libraries.