Good novel to push the boundaries for an orthodox Bat Mitzvah girl?
November 12, 2018 11:02 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a good book gift for an orthodox Bat Mizvah girl that will open up her world a little bit without incurring the wrath of her parents.

My cousin's daughter (is that my second cousin?) will be a Bat Mitzvah this December. I'd like to get her a book gift that will open up her literary world a little bit, but I don't want it to be transgressive in any way that will piss of her parents (sadly, that means no queer/trans themed young adult lit since I don't know her parents well enough to know their takes on those issues). I'd especially like to introduce her to the world of graphic novels. I would love to hear your ideas. Bonus points for anything that's Jewish-themed in an interesting or innovative way. For those of you who are community insiders, I gave her brother As a Driven Leaf, which is about a Jewish apostate in the era of the Mishnah, but I don't think he found it interesting and I got a rather uninspired note as a thank you.

I know I could take the easy way out in give money in denominations of 18 but I'm poor and also would like to give her something a little different.
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver?
posted by Countess Elena at 11:05 AM on November 12, 2018 [6 favorites]


It's got nothing to do with being Jewish and it's not a graphic novel, but I just read this (kids') book last week and was blown away--blown away--with how good it was. I've read a lot of middle grades aimed books in my life and very few of them have been so remarkably good. I've recommended it to about 10 people in just the last few days.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
posted by phunniemee at 11:13 AM on November 12, 2018 [6 favorites]


How Mirka Got Her Sword?
posted by thomas j wise at 11:20 AM on November 12, 2018 [10 favorites]


There's a whole series of Mirka graphic novels, and they're delightful.
posted by gideonfrog at 11:26 AM on November 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


Respectfully, I would suggest this way of thinking of a bat mitzvah gift could use some examining of your preconceived ideas of what this girl, who you say you don't know well, needs from you. Your secular world is not necessarily bigger, more open or better than theirs. You can open up her literary world just by giving her good literature that stimulates the imaginative and empathic responses of the reader, it doesn't have to have any kind of theme that is overtly "different" from her upbringing. As a parent of teens, I just suggest caution here in the secular evangelism that comes through -- if I knew a cousin was giving my young teenagers books specifically to "open them up" to their way of thinking when they barely knew my kids or my family because they felt they had a superior worldview of some kind, I would be pretty offended. And my kids would have, in a heartbeat, understood any gift coming with these intentions as a diss to her family and written a lackluster thank you note. Really, just because people are Orthodox doesn't mean they need enlightenment. So please consider giving the gift you'd like any teen to learn from, grow with and enjoy without an intention of diverting her from her family's worldview at age 13. (PS if they are having a bat mitzvah, they aren't rigid about gender anyway.)
posted by nantucket at 11:34 AM on November 12, 2018 [70 favorites]


Sub-question: no, the daughter of your first cousin is your first cousin, once removed. People who have a grandparent in common are first cousins, people who have a great-grandparent in common are second cousins, etc. Normal (first, second, third..) cousins are at the same ‘level’ of the family tree. When the cousins are at different levels (your grandparent is her great grand parent) that’s where you get into ‘removed’.

Nth cousins, M removed share a (great) grand parent, and that person is the (N- 1 greats) grandparent of one cousin, and the (N+M-1 great) grandparent of the other.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:48 AM on November 12, 2018 [7 favorites]


Not a graphic novel, but MeFi's own Phoebe North wrote a YA trilogy that I'm just going to quote her site to explain: "Jews in space meets My So-Called Life in this futuristic coming-of-age story for teens."
posted by teremala at 12:02 PM on November 12, 2018 [6 favorites]


Also not graphic, nor Jewish, but The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wells is my go-to book recommendation for that age-range. It's a bit rapscallion, a bit more 'grown-up' than they may be used to, but still deeply relatable and with a good message.
posted by matrixclown at 12:07 PM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was my favorite book at that age.
posted by brujita at 12:16 PM on November 12, 2018 [5 favorites]


Times have changed, and along with keeping your kids in sight these days instead of letting them wander the streets of Brooklyn, which of course is too bad in a lot of ways...today's parents often ask each other if it's OK before giving each other's younger adolescents A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It's absolutely fantastic literature and I allowed my daughter to read it at 12, but it has a very upsetting sexual assault scene (of the young girl). (It's also of its time and thus has quite a bit of explicit anti-Semitism, if that matters here). My best friend, who is secular, decided her sensitive daughter should not have this book at 13.
The Glass Castle is also filled with a lot of violence. Kids are different and they can't all process sexual violence, alcoholism, child abuse etc at 13. Really, no 13 year olds need their "boundaries pushed" by someone who barely knows them.
posted by nantucket at 12:23 PM on November 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'd like to get her a book gift that will open up her literary world a little bit

what is her current literary world like?
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:28 PM on November 12, 2018 [7 favorites]


I will continue to push My Favorite Thing is Monsters at any opportunity. It has won all the awards, and rightly so. It's mind-blowing in terms of story and its art. The story is largely one exploring and expanding concepts of personal identity, but the story is also in part a Holocaust narrative.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:31 PM on November 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


Alternatively, I would suggest Boxers and Saints, which is about two children from the same Chinese village who end up on different sides of the same conflict, each completely sympathetically. In a larger sense, it is about perspectives on the world and the importance of understanding through empathy.

Further to my previous suggestion, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters has a queer element.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:35 PM on November 12, 2018


I'm going to push back on the book suggestion if you're having this much trouble coming up with one. If you don't have a go-to for b'nai mitzvot, and you have a didactic purpose in mind that's not Your Non-Edgy Jewish Adulthood, please please please consider cash, a gift card, or maybe a Judaica-type bookmark. (Do people use bookmarks? I have no idea.)

(Also, MFTIM has plenty of explicit sex, including with young teenage prostitutes. And an attempted rape. I do not think it's an appropriate gift for any kid you don't know extremely well, and is an especially weird present for a coming of age ceremony.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:05 PM on November 12, 2018 [14 favorites]


when you give gifts that push your own agenda rather than genuinely trying to please the gift-ee, you're going to get lackluster thanks. And as the (secular) parent of an upcoming bat mitzvah, I read your question as extremely condescending.

If you'd like a rec for a book that my upcoming bat mitzvah girl likes, with no agenda other than pleasing many smart pre-teen girls I know: she and her friends, including the Orthodox ones, are loving the Shannon Messenger Keeper of the Lost Cities series.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:08 PM on November 12, 2018 [11 favorites]


The Mirka books are a great way to introduce her to graphic novels and celebrate her strength without being a dick about her beliefs or the Orthodox way of life. Seems like a perfect option.
posted by Acheman at 1:25 PM on November 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


I do not think it's an appropriate gift for any kid you don't know extremely well, and is an especially weird present for a coming of age ceremony.

You are right, and I withdraw the suggestion.

posted by Capt. Renault at 1:28 PM on November 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


Boring suggestion: ask her parents about her interests. Nothing wrong with a gift that allows someone to more deeply explore something they already like.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 1:31 PM on November 12, 2018 [8 favorites]


Not sure if this ticks ANY of your boxes, I'm not Jewish and don't understand these issues. But I LOVED the book the Golem and the Jinni and felt that it plays at cultural issues and diversity issues and creative issues and so much awesome stuff in this breathtaking way that pulls you into awesome land without being particularly religious OR non religious.

It was given to me by a liberal Jewish friend. Simply breathtaking writing.
posted by cacao at 1:56 PM on November 12, 2018 [6 favorites]


I loved the Golem and the Jinni!

My Great Wide Beautiful World by Juanita Harrison is my go-to.

"A travel memoir by an African-American woman who lived in or visited 22 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Polynesia in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Her uncorrected prose reveals delight and wonder in every new experience, and an insatiable thirst for adventure and freedom."
posted by cyndigo at 2:23 PM on November 12, 2018


+1 to Spinning Silver from the first suggestion of the thread. It's a wonderful YA fantasy novel with a devout Jewish protagonist but not at all in a preachy way. No sex or queer themes, but it does include depictions of domestic abuse, as well as high-level fantasy-villain type violence.
posted by serelliya at 3:00 PM on November 12, 2018


I just spent fifteen minutes digging through the internet to find the title of this book, so I hope you take a good look at it. It’s Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen.
posted by bq at 3:26 PM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Not a graphic novel, but MeFi's own Phoebe North wrote a YA trilogy that I'm just going to quote her site to explain: "Jews in space meets My So-Called Life in this futuristic coming-of-age story for teens."

I . . . came in to suggest my own book but I am beaten to it! I will note that there's a subtle pro-gay marriage message in the first book, but the main character is straight. Characters are all some variation of Jewish, and in the second book (spoilers) one ends up being rather observant. If you feel like going this route, MeMail me and I can see about sending you a personal, signed book plate or two that you can put inside them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:53 PM on November 12, 2018 [10 favorites]


I was right around her age when In The Shadow of Man completely blew my mind. Maybe Primates?
posted by ChuraChura at 4:36 PM on November 12, 2018


Nantucket, I totally understand why you wrote what you wrote, and I think you misinterpreted my question. When I said I'd like to open up her literary world a bit, I meant that and nothing more- not because she's Orthodox but because she's a pre-teen. For example, I just gave a non-Jewish preteen the classic graphic novel "Akira" because I thought it would be something different than what he usually came across, not because I presumed that my world and viewpoints were somehow more expansive than his. As you can see from my saying that queer/trans themes were probably not appropriate, I have no interest in challenging her family's lifestyle or choices about observance. I mentioned previously giving As a Driven Leaf not to show how I was righteously triggering my religious relatives, but because it was a Jewish-themed book that I enjoyed that I thought he would too. Turns out my Aunt and Uncle read his copy but it doesn't seem like he did, and I wanted to try to pick out something this time that would be more of a hit.

I will ask my cousin and her husband if she is a reader and what sort of stuff she likes to try to narrow things down. If I can't come up with anything good then I'll just give cash.

PS The are conservative enough on gender that they are having the Bat Mitzvah on a Sunday not a Saturday because they don't believe in the formal ceremony for girls.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:51 PM on November 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


13 is still a kid. Golem & the Jinni is a (fantastic) book for adults. As a Driven Leaf is for adults (as evidenced by your adult relatives having found it a good read.) Spinning Silver is not written for kids either. Don't give a kid adult books and expect them to read them for pleasure unless you have specific reason to think their tastes are extremely precocious (and even then, expect a low success rate.)

Whatever book you give, enclose a gift receipt.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:48 PM on November 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


but the story is also in part a Holocaust narrative.
whatever you end up giving her do not give her a Holocaust book of any sort
posted by colorblock sock at 10:49 PM on November 12, 2018 [9 favorites]


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