The Two Wrong Halves of Ruby Taylor

  • Review
By – March 13, 2023

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.

Jil­lian Bietz stud­ied library tech­nol­o­gy and research skills and cur­rent­ly works in the library sys­tem. She is a book review­er for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and Kirkus Review Indie. Jil­lian lives in South­ern California.

Discussion Questions