It has been a really long time since I read a book in one day. But day one of vacation + an amazing middle grade book written in a mixture of styles was the perfect recipe. Aimee Lucido nailed it with Recipe for Disaster.
Part of what makes this book so powerful to me has to do with Covid and what it has done to today’s generation of Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids, my own included. For those who don’t know me personally, in my “spare time” I am the director of a very small religious school. A normal year sees maybe 1 kid have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. 2021 was supposed to be the year of 6 but only one managed to happen before Covid hit. A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a day worked for, waited for, sometimes dreaded, that is supposed to be a big marker for adulthood in the Jewish community. For a lot of kids, it is about the party. For many it is about finally being able to stop going to Hebrew school. It is supposed to mean more. Aimee Lucido managed to bring all of this together in Recipe for Disaster.
I have watched a lot of kids go through the work necessary for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. I have seen a variety of different ways the kids participate in their own services, by choice and by requirement. I have seen that some kids truly just go through the motions because their parents are making them do it while others embrace the experience and everything in between. In Recipe for Disaster, we watch as Hannah evolves from being a kid who doesn’t even really identify with being Jewish who just wants a big party and to be the center of attention to being someone who realizes that it isn’t about the big ceremony but rather a state of mind and being with the people who mean the most to you. Lucido did a marvelous job showing Hannah’s evolution as a Jew as well as her evolution as a friend.
The basis of the story is that Hannah’s best friend Shira has just had her Bat Mitzvah and Hannah is jealous. At the party she announces that she is going to have a Bat Mitzvah herself. This is something of a surprise to her family who is nonreligious. Her mother was raised Jewish and her father was raised Catholic, but the family does not practice any religion. As it turns out, her aunt Yael is a rabbi, but she and Hannah’s mother are estranged for an unknown reason. Hannah’s grandmother Mimi, who shares a love of Jewish baking with Hannah and her older brother, sets it up so that Hannah can learn from her aunt with an unspoken desire to fix whatever rift exists. Learning Hebrew is harder than Hannah imagines, and her aunt is making her do the necessary work.
Hannah struggles to understand what being Jewish is as well as what being a good friend really means. Through her work with her aunt as well as issues with old friend Shira and new friend Vee, she learns some important life lessons. One of the most challenging things is finding a way for a pre-teen to connect with words from the torah that can seem archaic and meaningless. Hannah’s aunt helps her consider the necessary questions. Many tweens do not know how to formulate the questions that are needed to give a deeper meaning to their studies, but this story might help start that conversation.
One big strength in the story was the variety of Jewish experiences that different characters brought to the table. Each character displayed true to life representations. It is painful to acknowledge the hate and prejudice that exists, but it is an unfortunate truth that non-Jews need to realize is part of the Jewish experience.
Thank you Aimee Lucido and Versify for a wonderful book. This is definitely one that I would highly recommend to any Bar or Bat Mitzvah student.