Sor­ry for Your Loss

  • Review
By – September 20, 2021

There aren’t many fic­tion books for mid­dle graders that address the sub­ject of death in a straight-on, no-non­sense man­ner; this is unfor­tu­nate. Chil­dren of any age may, unfor­tu­nate­ly, have to deal with a death with­in their per­son­al cir­cle and, although read­ing about the top­ic before­hand can­not sub­sti­tute for the expe­ri­ence grief, it can pro­vide a frame­work for under­stand­ing, a less­en­ing of taboos around dis­cus­sion of the top­ic, and a bit of famil­iar­i­ty with some of the issues that may be help­ful dur­ing a dif­fi­cult time.

Joanne Levy’s nov­el Sor­ry for Your Loss address­es death from a prac­ti­cal as well as an emo­tion­al point of view. Pro­tag­o­nist Evie’s par­ents own a funer­al home, and Evie often helps out with details of the fam­i­ly busi­ness. Most of the time, she buys sup­plies or does basic house­keep­ing tasks. These respon­si­bil­i­ties free her par­ents from many details and allow them to put their tal­ents and ener­gies into help­ing griev­ing fam­i­lies make the arrange­ments for funer­als and buri­als. Evie knows that what her par­ents do is nec­es­sary and impor­tant; she hopes to become a funer­al direc­tor, her­self, when she grows up. Oth­er kids in Evie’s class do not under­stand this lifestyle, think­ing that Evie’s world is both ghoul­ish and creepy. She endures relent­less teasing.

One day, a boy of about Evie’s age is brought to the funer­al home. Oren’s par­ents have been killed in a car acci­dent, and his new guardian, an uncle, is lov­ing but essen­tial­ly a stranger who does­n’t have much expe­ri­ence with chil­dren Oren’s age, espe­cial­ly a child who sud­den­ly and trag­i­cal­ly lost both par­ents. Evie’s par­ents ask her to help out with some­thing oth­er than prac­ti­cal arrange­ments for the first time ever; they hope that a com­pan­ion of Oren’s own age will help him process his grief, as he has gone mute from the trau­ma. This is not an easy task for Evie to han­dle; she has a habit of blurt­ing out inap­pro­pri­ate com­ments under stress and some­times chat­ters and does­n’t know when to stop. Evie’s par­ents don’t real­ize that she is mourn­ing, too; a very close friend on whom Evie relied, a friend from camp, has recent­ly died. Evie has a lot to con­tend with for a child her age, but she does her best, con­tin­u­ing to reach out to Oren and show­ing con­cern and sym­pa­thy. Oren grad­u­al­ly begins to respond, espe­cial­ly when the two begin a very spe­cial craft project in mem­o­ry of his par­ents. Both Evie and Oren grow in under­stand­ing and matu­ri­ty as the sto­ry progresses.

Jew­ish val­ues and expe­ri­ences per­me­ate the sto­ry from start to fin­ish. Some are com­mon Jew­ish life cycle events such as bat mitz­vahs, Jew­ish day school atten­dance, shab­bat, and con­sult­ing a local rab­bi. Oth­er cul­tur­al depic­tions, with which the read­er may not be famil­iar, fea­ture such bur­ial cus­toms as tahara (prepa­ra­tion of the body for bur­ial), shi­va, bury­ing worn out prayer books, and the role of a Chevra Kadisha (bur­ial soci­ety that makes sure all rites are han­dled respect­ful­ly and adhere to Jew­ish law).

This impor­tant top­ic is sen­si­tive­ly han­dled, turn­ing an already excel­lent com­ing-of-age tale into an impor­tant addi­tion to the mid­dle grade bookshelf.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions