You would think that writing a book based on your own identity would be easy, but you would be wrong.
In my newly-announced sophomore book, RECIPE FOR DISASTER, twelve-year-old Hannah Malfa-Adler is Jew…ish.
Just like me.
Just like me, Hannah’s mom was raised Jewish and her dad was raised Catholic, but neither of them participate in any form of organized religion today.
Just like me, Hannah has a maternal grandmother who identifies strongly as Jewish, and believes that her identity makes Hannah Jewish too.
Just like me, Hannah doesn’t know if she’s allowed to refer to herself as Jewish, or even if she wants to.
And just like me, Hannah wants a Bat Mitzvah so badly her teeth hurt.
But Hannah Malfa-Adler is not me. She is way more gutsy than I ever was, or ever could hope to be, because Hannah decides she doesn’t need anyone else’s permission to have a Bat Mitzvah, she can go get one for herself.
(Okay, if you twist my arm, I’ll admit that writing up to this part of the story really wasn’t that hard.)
I should have seen it coming, honestly, because it seems so obvious in hindsight, but the thing they don’t tell you about writing a character who is preparing for her Bat Mitzvah is that you kind of have to prepare for a Bat Mitzvah yourself.
I mean, sure, I get to choose my own Torah portion, and if I never want to chant Hebrew in front of a crowd, I don’t have to. But if you would have told me at age thirteen that I would one day be taking Hebrew lessons at a synagogue in Oakland, and that I would be reading dozens of Torah portions to figure out which one would make my character the most miserable, and that I would be studying gemetria, etymology, and the migration of Jews into America, not to mention making so many varieties of rugelach, macaroons, sufganiyot, and hamentaschen that baking actually becomes a *chore* I probably would have said, “Never mind, I don’t want a Bat Mitzvah after all.”
I never thought that writing a book based on my own life experiences would require so much gosh darn research!
But the other thing they don’t tell you when you write a character who is DIY-ing a Bat Mitzvah behind her parents’ back is that you’re really writing a character who is searching for permission to be Jewish.
And the cool thing about that is when your character finally gives herself permission to be Jewish, you give yourself that permission as well.
B’shalom, Aimee Lucido
Aimee Lucido is a software engineer by day and a writer by night. She got her MFA in writing for children and young adults at Hamline University, and she lives with her husband in San Francisco where she likes to bake, run marathons, and write crossword puzzles.