Twelve-year-old Ruby spends several afternoons a week with her paternal grandmother, Grandma Yvette, and her cousin, Sarah. Although they were once very close, Ruby is growing annoyed with dutiful Sarah’s “perfect” personality and feels hurt by her grandmother’s favoritism. Because Grandma Yvette considers Judaism to be matrilineal, she prefers to partake in Jewish rituals and traditions with Sarah, who has two Jewish parents, while Ruby has a Catholic mom. Ruby’s discomfort about her Jewish identity is further complicated by the fact that her mother’s family makes her feel too Jewish, even leaning into antisemitic sentiments. Ruby’s Judaism is meaningful to her, but neither side of her family understands it. Then, one day, Ruby accidentally unleashes a dybbuk from a box in Grandma Yvette’s basement — and strange things begin to happen. Sarah suddenly starts to act out of character, deliberately eating non-kosher food, pulling the fire alarm at school, and writing a horrible, hurtful letter to Rabbi Ellen, the new rabbi. As Ruby attempts to free Sarah from the malevolent spirit within, who is intent on creating chaos and causing destruction, she further explores her Jewish identity, solidifies her relationship with religion, and finds new meaning in the traditions and expectations that surround her.
In this well-written story that thoughtfully integrates Jewish folklore, Amanda Panitch meditates on Jewish identity, belonging, and complicated family dynamics. Readers will empathize with Ruby’s perseverance as she stays true to herself despite her challenges.