Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: AVIVA VS. THE DYBBUK by Mari Lowe
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee Member Michelle Lettus
Even though AVIVA VS. THE DYBBUK by Mari Lowe is a short book, it is powerful. It is full of grief, but also forgiveness. The main character Aviva is an unreliable narrator who has been through a lot. Her father died in an “accident”, her mother is depressed, kids at school, including her once best friend, ignore her. To top it all off, there is a dybbuk causing trouble and she is the only one who can see and keep track of it.
We meet Aviva when she’s nine and has run to the woods. She’s angry and you can feel her anger radiate off the pages. Her father is gone and she just wants to know that her mother still cares. What Lowe really shows in this chapter is that she can pack a lot in a short amount of pages. By the end of the prologue, Aviva is no longer angry, she understands that her mother is depressed. “I must have aged a few years in those seconds alone, staring at Ema and trying to find words that wouldn’t come” (p 7). This introduction tells us everything we need to know about Aviva: she’s angry, but also lonely. Her former best friend sits in the car on the way home and she can’t tell her why she ran away. The chapter ends with Aviva crying sitting next to the dybbuk.
We learn more about the dybbuk from Aviva. Lowe explains concepts that some may not be familiar with without making the writing dense. “A dybbuk is a soul that won’t rest. It didn’t finish what it was supposed to in this life, and it will create mischief right up until its mission is fulfilled” (p 13). The dybbuk creates all sorts of messes that Aviva deals with. The story goes on to show Aviva deal with her grief, which means confronting the truth.
A clear strength of AVIVA VS. THE DYBBUK is the theme. Grief can be so overpowering that you might lie to yourself just to make it through, as we find out that Aviva does. You might also shut yourself off from the world, which is how Aviva’s mother handles the world. A concise, well-written story, AVIVA VS. THE DYBBUK is a good choice to consider for the Newbery.
Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST. Let the Mock Newbery discussion begin!
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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