It’s My Par­ty and I Don’t Want to Go

  • Review
By – February 8, 2021

If you have ever won­dered to what extent a shy teen might go to avoid the stress of a bar or bat mitz­vah cer­e­mo­ny and the lav­ish cel­e­bra­tion which fol­lows — Aman­da Panitch’s It’s My Par­ty and I Don’t Want to Go is the book for you. Ellie Katz is ter­ri­fied at the prospect of her bat mitz­vah. In fact, she suf­fers from a social anx­i­ety dis­or­der which caus­es her to have fright­en­ing phys­i­cal symp­toms even think­ing about the upcom­ing ordeal. It’s My Par­ty and I Don’t Want to Go presents the awful con­se­quences of when a young adult’s emo­tion­al needs clash with the expec­ta­tions of her family.

Con­flict­ing mes­sages about what it means to be a Jew­ish adult dom­i­nate Ellie’s fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty. When her father warns her with tact­less humor, Bet­ter enjoy the four months you have left of your child­hood,” it is clear that he has failed to under­stand either his daughter’s per­son­al­i­ty or the sig­nif­i­cance of her mile­stone. Even her old­er sister’s bat mitz­vah had been a tor­ture for Ellie; the mem­o­ry of light­ing a can­dle on a giant cake in front of a huge crowd had caused a pan­ic attack. For­tu­nate­ly, she is able to rely on her best friend, Zoe, for empa­thy, but the plan which they con­coct is not an answer to Ellie’s dilem­ma. Oper­a­tion Sur­rep­ti­tious Shell­fish,” a care­ful­ly staged food fight, and fak­ing her own demise are the only solu­tions she can imag­ine to her plight.

There are many ref­er­ences to spe­cif­ic Jew­ish prac­tices and orga­ni­za­tions, from the Con­ser­v­a­tive Kadi­ma youth group to Sab­bath pro­hi­bi­tions, which are uneven­ly observed in her com­mu­ni­ty. Ellie her­self mis­un­der­stands many of these cus­toms, which form a hazy back­ground to her per­son­al anguish. She believes mis­tak­en­ly that the bat mitz­vah cer­e­mo­ny itself makes” one a Jew­ish adult, instead of real­iz­ing that it only marks that point in her life. A painful con­ver­sa­tion with her synagogue’s kind can­tor about the cen­tral point of her bat mitz­vah cer­e­mo­ny reveals sim­i­lar con­fu­sion: To be hon­est, I still don’t know exact­ly what a cantor’s job descrip­tion is.”

Pan­itch shows that Ellie is caught up in an envi­ron­ment where peo­ple val­ue an expen­sive pro­duc­tion over oth­er Jew­ish val­ues relat­ed to com­ing-of-age. Ear­ly in the nov­el, Ellie remarks on the hypocrisy of an expen­sive extrav­a­gan­za for a reluc­tant thir­teen-year-old: B’nai mitz­vah cost a lot of money…But why spend all that mon­ey on a big par­ty when we could put it to bet­ter use?”

When Ellie’s plans are final­ly exposed, the inevitable fam­i­ly con­fronta­tion takes place. She has her first hon­est dis­cus­sion with Han­nah, her old­er sis­ter, about how her well-inten­tioned encour­age­ment has only made her more fear­ful. The sub­dued exchange between the sis­ters reveals sides of both their per­son­al­i­ties which had been obscured through­out Ellie’s string of attempts at sab­o­tage. The nov­el is most suc­cess­ful in these qui­et moments of reflec­tion. Pan­itch sheds light on the need for rec­og­niz­ing anx­i­ety dis­or­ders and ask­ing for help; a shy girl’s wish for a low-key friends- and fam­i­ly-cen­tered cel­e­bra­tion offers a mean­ing­ful approach to Jew­ish adulthood.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

Discussion Questions