Middle schooler Miriam Feigenbaum is about to be an adult. Well, in the Jewish tradition, that is. Her Bat Mitzvah is quickly approaching, so she’s got a lot on her plate: practicing her Torah portion, attempting not to roll her eyes too hard at her Dad’s terrible jokes, party planning, and, oh yeah, getting sent on a surprise journey to finish the mythical Unfinished Corner—the one section that was left undone when the world was created, where it’s said everything evil and monstrous hides. Just completely regular things for a 12-year-old who isn’t even sure how she feels about being Jewish, right?
What was supposed to be a field trip for winners of the school art contest is suddenly the adventure of a lifetime for Miriam, her two best friends Avi and David, and their classmate/frenemy Judith, complete with shapeshifting buses, fantastical creatures, and a rabbi who might just be something more. As the intrepid tweens make their way across this mystical and mysterious land in search of the Unfinished Corner, they’ll find themselves delving deeper than ever into Jewish traditions, mythology, history, and lore, and maybe, just maybe, starting to figure out what being Jewish means to them. And if they’re lucky, Miriam might help them save the universe while they’re at it.
There has been an uptick of late in middle grade novels centering the mythology of historically underrepresented cultures, and The Unfinished Corner fits right in, with the graphic novel format making it even more accessible. Part coming of age story and part adventure yarn, author Dani Colman seamlessly weaves those aspects together with stories from the Jewish tradition that many readers may not be familiar with. Through conversations between our main four characters, as well as from folks they meet along their trek, stories and religious customs are explained in a way that feels casual and conversational; natural and not didactic, even when asterisks are employed to translate Hebrew terminology and phrases.
As a non-Jewish reviewer, I cannot speak about the representation the book provides in the same way that a Jewish reviewer would be able to. I can, however, say that Dani Colman is a Jewish author, and lends at least her own lived experience to the voices of Miriam, Judith, Avi, David, and the cultural nuances they express throughout the book as they learn and grow together. So much Jewish literature for youth is focused on one specific period of history. It is incredibly refreshing to see instead a story where our main characters are just regular kids dealing with generic tween things like trying to figure out whether or not to wear makeup, drawing cool maps for role playing games, taking up a martial art to deal with bullies, and the way friendships grow and change, especially when you’re maybe hiding a pretty big secret. All while on an epic adventure, of course!
As always, when it comes to graphic novels, the stories would be mere shadows of themselves without the talented illustrators who bring the characters to life on the page. Rachel “Tuna” Petrovicz’s art style feels like watching an animated TV show or film; perfect for the wide range of events throughout the book, from action-packed demon fight scenes to the moments of goofiness, exaggerated expressions, and humor, and the quieter moments of deep frustration and generational anguish. Each character has a vivid, bright personality, and the diversity of backgrounds is made clear as well (Miriam and Avi are white, David seems to be coded as Black and possibly Iranian as well, given that he mentions speaking Farsi, and Judith seems to be coded as Latine and speaks Spanish). It’s an important visual reminder that there is not one specific way to be Jewish.
A recommended purchase for any library, The Unfinished Corner fills a much-needed gap in Jewish youth literature and is an at turns informative, funny, moving, and exciting graphic novel that will appeal to middle grade readers who are fans of friendship stories and anything under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint.
The Unfinished Corner
By Dani Colman
Art by Rachel “Tuna” Petrovicz
Publisher Age Rating: 8-13
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Jewish
Character Representation: Jewish