Exploring Pre-teen Angst — From the Shopping Mall to the Bimah
When you’re 12 going on 13, everything feels just so serious. Stacy Friedman, the protagonist of Fiona Rosenbloom’s young adult novel “You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” (Hyperion), has an accessory bag full of problems standing in the way of having an absolutely perfect life. Her parents’ marriage is on the fritz, and her dad is dating a perma-tan bimbo named Delilah. Stacy’s mom is depressed and is forcing her daughter to wear a mortifying puffy-sleeved, satin-bowed bat mitzvah dress. Stacy still doesn’t have a speech prepared, and her dorky, brainiac brother, Arthur, is getting fat. The thought of exposing the cute boys and her school’s clique of cool girls (known as the Chicas), which she is on the verge of joining, to all this is almost too much to bear. But all this pales in comparison to two nettlesome details: an undying fantasy of dancing with (and maybe kissing) Andy Goldberg at her bat mitzvah, and the fact that her very best friend, Lydia, has nabbed him. Oh, and have we mentioned that horrible dress?
Stacy’s resolve is quick. Witnessing some spit swapping between her now ex-best friend and her stolen crush makes it easy for her to uninvite Lydia. While she’s at it, Stacy uninvites a number of the other Chicas who aren’t taking her side. Hitting seventh-grade rock bottom, she has no choice but to seek the guidance of Rabbi Sherwin, her bat mitzvah teacher. The jovial spiritual leader, who calls Stacy by her Hebrew name, Seema, has the warmth and cool-dude patience necessary for preteen drama. He suggests she strive for the path of righteousness and perform three acts of kindness before her big day.
The book follows with Stacy’s quest to meet the mitzvahs. She opts to help her mom find a man and her brother to be cooler and lose weight. But eventually Stacy realizes that even her new-and-improved wish list is too much about her. Ultimately she enters a new chapter of self-knowledge, right on the bimah for family and friends to see.
But the story here is not just Stacy’s. There’s moving humor in her father’s relationship with Delilah, and her mother’s struggles are poignant and believable. Arthur struggles with his weight and his dorkiness. And then there are the self-involved Chicas, hip-hop goofy Andy and the sweet yet smooth Italian exchange student, all of whom round out the early teen tableau.
What’s nice to see is the change Stacy makes from “me, me, me” to “Pity me” to “It’s me who has to make things right.” And then she ends with “Okay, maybe it’s about me, but it’s about everybody else, too.” Sure there is a lot of name-brand- and name-dropping, along with some out-of-nowhere Yiddish, but it all kind of works in a cutesy way.
Rosenbloom, a Westchester County native, has brought the world of her youth to life — with updated brand names, of course. Whether she can draw some fashionistas-in-training away from Nordstrom and into the bookstore for a little chickadee lit remains to be seen. But why not? They’ll already have Mom and Dad’s plastic in hand.