The Dubi­ous Pranks of Shaindy Goodman

By – November 27, 2023

Shaindy Good­man is a twelve-year-old stu­dent who lives in an Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ty and attends a tra­di­tion­al Bais Yaakov school for girls. The pranks ref­er­enced in the title are dubi­ous — in the sense that they are root­ed in doubt. Shaindy is inse­cure, and nei­ther pop­u­lar nor aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly out­stand­ing. When her neigh­bor Gay­il begins to pay her unex­pect­ed atten­tion, Shaindy inter­prets the over­tures opti­misti­cal­ly, as a chance to be noticed. The price of the rela­tion­ship is Shaindy’s agree­ment to par­tic­i­pate in an elab­o­rate series of destruc­tive and per­son­al­ized attacks. With care­ful pre­ci­sion, Mari Lowe explores the com­plex nature of pre­teen social inter­ac­tions, as well as their emo­tion­al­ly dan­ger­ous consequences.

Shaindy points out the atmos­phere of decep­tion that per­vades her seem­ing­ly per­fect grade: No one is mean to me aloud, of course.” She describes a kind of duplic­i­ty that goes unno­ticed by adults. Gay­il is cal­cu­lat­ing and reck­less in a way that ren­ders some­one like Shaindy vul­ner­a­ble. I’m the shad­ow, the girl no one notices,” the pro­tag­o­nist thinks to her­self. But as sad as she is about being so over­looked, she still accepts her sta­tus on some lev­el. She can’t bring her­self to be angry or to feel sor­ry for herself.

The sto­ry is laced with ele­ments of mys­tery and psy­cho­log­i­cal ter­ror; Shaindy rec­og­nizes Gay­il as an accom­plished liar,” whose acts of dis­hon­esty go from impres­sive” to sin­is­ter.” How­ev­er, Lowe’s nar­ra­tive skills avoid draw­ing com­fort­ing dis­tinc­tions between good and bad char­ac­ters. She grad­u­al­ly devel­ops a back­sto­ry for Gayil’s motives, allud­ing to her frus­tra­tions as one sib­ling in a large fam­i­ly. At the same time, Gayil’s cru­el­ty keeps us from for­giv­ing her out­right. The themes of com­ing of age and young adult mal­ice are not new, but Lowe’s approach is unusu­al in that it sit­u­ates the chal­lenges of grow­ing up with­in the ten­sions of the yeshi­va world. The pres­sure on Shaindy and her fel­low stu­dents is inten­si­fied by the fact that they are con­stant­ly told to embody Torah values.

Despite her strug­gles, Shaindy still sens­es the strength of her com­mu­ni­ty. Shop­ping in the local mar­ket for the fruits that will be part of her Rosh Hashanah obser­vance, she is full of joy. Gay­il is also shop­ping for the same pur­pose. When she reminds her younger sis­ter and broth­er to make a bracha before sam­pling the food, her adher­ence to Jew­ish law seems as inte­gral to her life as those destruc­tive schemes that under­mine Jew­ish val­ues. The nov­el makes clear that, ulti­mate­ly, both girls are search­ing for answers to their ques­tions of identity.

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

With The Dubi­ous Pranks of Shaindy Good­man, author Mari Lowe taps into the hopes, dreams, and anx­i­eties of pre­teen girls with nerve-jan­gling pre­ci­sion. Set in a close-knit Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ty dur­ing the High Holy Days, the book offers a glimpse into an under­rep­re­sent­ed com­mu­ni­ty, set­ting, and cul­ture. It takes a lot of work to make char­ac­ters with such idio­syn­crat­ic lives feel so won­der­ful­ly ordi­nary, but that’s exact­ly what Lowe does with shy Shaindy and her maybe-bestie Gay­il. She chan­nels the uni­ver­sal expe­ri­ence of a com­pli­cat­ed child­hood friend­ship in ways that are almost painful­ly relatable.

Themes of teshu­vah appear through­out the book, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the girls’ Yom Kip­pur projects, and the depic­tion of the char­ac­ters’ lived expe­ri­ences feels authen­tic and nat­ur­al. Tidy end­ings don’t come easy — there are no short­cuts for Shaindy as she nav­i­gates a com­pli­cat­ed friend­ship, pranks gone too far, and her oblig­a­tion to the peo­ple around her. The Dubi­ous Pranks of Shaindy Good­man isn’t always a com­fort­able read, but it cap­tures the com­plex­i­ty of tweenage girl­hood in a way that feels vital.