Book Title: The Two Wrong Halves of Ruby Taylor
Author: Amanda Panitch
Release Date: August 9th, 2022
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Magical Realism
My rating: 4/5 Stars
Amanda Panitch’s middle-grade novel The Two Wrong Halves of Ruby Taylor is an exploration of mixed families, identity, hundred-year-old curses, and the terrifying challenge of standing up for yourself against your loved ones.
Of her two granddaughters, Grandma Yvette clearly prefers Ruby Taylor’s perfect—and perfectly Jewish—cousin, Sarah. They do everything together, including bake cookies and have secret sleep overs that Ruby isn’t invited to. Twelve-year-old Ruby suspects Grandma Yvette doesn’t think she’s Jewish enough. The Jewish religion is matrilineal, which means it’s passed down from mother to child, and unlike Sarah, Ruby’s mother isn’t Jewish.
But when Sarah starts acting out–trading in her skirts and cardigans for ripped jeans and stained t-shirts, getting in trouble at school–Ruby can’t help but be somewhat pleased. Then Sarah suddenly takes things too far, and Ruby is convinced Sarah is possessed by a dybbuk, an evil spirit… that Ruby may or may not have accidentally released from Grandma Yvette’s basement. Ruby is determined to save her cousin, but a dybbuk can only be expelled by a “pious Jew.” If Ruby isn’t Jewish enough for her own grandmother, how can she possibly be Jewish enough to fight a dybbuk?
The Two Wrong Halves of Ruby Taylor was a delightful story about a young girl struggling to find her place in the world, especially in regard to religion. This is an issue I hear so much about, so I’m incredibly glad there’s a story like this available for young people to read and learn from. Something Ruby especially has trouble dealing with is the fact that she’s “too Jewish” for the Catholic side of her family, but “too Christian” for the Jewish side of her family.
It was so heartbreaking to watch Ruby try to come to terms with what that meant for her and her faith, but it was also such a strong storyline and was done incredibly well. This can also apply to so many things in regard to identity–not just religion–so the fact that it was addressed so explicitly throughout the story was really powerful. It also means that younger readers who are experiencing this type of divide in their life will be able to feel seen and understood, and maybe come to terms with their struggles.
That’s why books like these, especially for this age range, are so needed. I’ve read some that haven’t covered difficult topics as well, but this one certainly did. There was a lot for Ruby to overcome and learn, and she did so in an authentic and potent way.
In addition to identity, family bonds are also a huge part of The Two Wrong Halves of Ruby Taylor, with various types of relationships being explored. First, there’s the relationship between Ruby and her Grandma Yvette, who is someone Ruby desperately craves validation and praise from, despite the fact that Grandma Yvette clearly favors her cousin, and is always leaving Ruby out of things because she’s “not Jewish enough.” Even when Ruby comes to terms with the fact that she doesn’t need Grandma Yvette’s approval to be proud and accepting of herself, she still struggles with standing up to her, because deep down, she still craves that validation. Eventually, though, Ruby realizes that nothing she does will ever change Grandma Yvette’s view of her, so her own self-validation will have to be enough. This is something so many people can relate to, and I thought it was handled so well.
The next type of relationship explored in this book is the strong bonds Ruby shares with her parents, who are both loving and supportive. They truly want the best for Ruby, they always answer her questions when she asks, and any time anyone says something demeaning to her, they stand up for her. It was so lovely to see such a healthy relationship between daughter and parents, since this is something often neglected in MG and YA books. When things became difficult with the Dybbuk situation, Ruby tried to get assistance from her parents, which again is not something often seen. Even though they didn’t believe her, I loved the inclusion of that scene.
Along with those two types of relationships, different friendships are also investigated. The one I want to focus on right now though is Ruby’s rocky friendship with her cousin, Sarah. These two have done things together for so long, that neither ever stops to question why they’re doing everything as they are, which leads to a lot of pent-up frustration and hurt feelings. Ruby and Sarah didn’t actually have that much in common, but even despite their arguments and misunderstandings, they still loved and appreciated each other. They just needed to approach their friendship differently, but they didn’t know how to since everything had been the same for so long.
Which is where the inclusion of tradition comes into play. Not only with Sarah, but in other contexts as well. This was another excellent topic that was handled well. The book showed how important traditions can be, but also that they can be harmful if not examined from time to time, or never questioned. It was explained in a simple, matter-of-fact manner that would be easy for younger readers to digest, while still exploring the complexities of the issue. Because, as the book states, traditions can be a really good thing. They can bring people together, and they can make people happy. But when one never question why a specific tradition is done, it can become harmful, or warped into something unrecognizable over time.
I was just so impressed with how all of the topics were explored. The book is clearly being used to educate young people on certain ideas, however, none of it ever felt forced or unnecessary for the story. Everything flowed well and made sense for Ruby’s journey. It was excellent!
The only thing that bothered me about this book was Ruby’s characterization in the beginning. She could be really selfish, but it was all part of her growth and story arc. She went through a long journey throughout the book, and she experienced a lot of change, so it makes sense that this is where she started. It was genuine, too. I’m sure I was insufferable at that age as well. So, I do completely understand why it was necessary and where she was coming from, it just got in my nerves from time to time.
Even so, I ended up loving this. Because even though Ruby was incredibly self-centered at the start, her development was done so well. It was never forced and always felt realistic.
The Two Wrong Halves of Ruby Taylor is a wonderful story that can be read in one or two sittings. It’s a sweet book, but will also really make you think about things. I’m so glad I got to read this one!
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
Check out my last ARC Review: Bravely (ARC Review)