There have been so many great Jewish middle-grade books out lately, and I haven’t been able to let many of them slip by me without them ending up on my TBR. And I was lucky enough to snag a copy of Repairing the World by Linda Epstein (Aladdin, 2022) on a recent library trip. It was just sitting there happily on the new books shelf when I walked by, and into my bag it went!
CONTENT WARNING: Child death.
Daisy and Ruby have been best friends all their lives. They’re inseparable, doing everything together, complementing each other perfectly and being able to finish each other’s sentences. They’re looking forward to starting middle school together in the fall, beginning their journey to growing up, when the unthinkable happens, and Daisy is left alone to face the future and grow up without her best friend.
Grief weighs heavily on her, and Daisy finds it difficult to even speak about what happened. Two new friends – Avery, a science-minded girl who appears in many of Daisy’s classes, and Mo, a boy from Hebrew school and her regular school, whose mother is suffering from breast cancer – appear on the scene, helping her to crawl at least a little out of the shadows that Ruby’s death have left behind, but Daisy still continues to shove her grief down. But grief and pain can’t stay buried forever, and when they erupt in Daisy like a volcano, she’s going to have to figure out how to fix the damage her hurt caused.
At times in the beginning, I felt like the writing got a little clunky and awkward, but where Repairing the World really shines is both in its descriptions of grief, and in the deep understanding Daisy’s new friends show her. The descriptions of grief are heavy, but they’ll seem familiar to anyone who’s struggled with loss. It’s not just emotional, it’s physical as well, and survivor’s guilt is very, very real. Daisy is tasked with carrying a lot, and Ms. Epstein really nails how difficult this all is for a tween.
Avery and Mo are exceptional characters. Avery is spunky and analytical, with a personality not unlike that of Ruby, but different enough that she really sparkle. Mo, struggling with his own pain, provides support and a way for Daisy to begin processing her loss. Aunt Toby, home to help Daisy and Daisy’s heavily pregnant mother, also serves to give Daisy some breathing room and new ways to move forward in a life she never expected. The supporting cast in this book are phenomenal and provide a wonderful scaffolding for Daisy and her grief.
This book contains Bridge to Terabithia-levels of anguish; if your middle grader is especially sensitive for any reason, check in with them if this is something they express interest in reading. It might be tough for them; on the other hand, Repairing the World might make them feel not so alone, especially if they’re dealing with loss and grief (and we all know, far too many kids are struggling with that these days. Tough as it is, this book is SO necessary). Daisy’s hurt is almost palpable; Ms. Epstein’s portrayal of what that kind of pain looks and feels like is absolutely commendable, and I think a lot of hurting kids will be able to relate.
Repairing the World will squeeze your soul, and my hopes are that it will provide comfort to kids who see themselves in the story, and understanding and enlightenment for kids fortunate enough not to see their own journey in Daisy’s.