Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Q&A with Joshua S. Levy




Joshua S. Levy is the author of the new middle grade novel Finn and Ezra's Bar Mitzvah Time Loop. His other books include The Jake Show. He lives in New Jersey.


Q: What inspired you to write Finn and Ezra’s Bar Mitzvah Time Loop?


A: Hello! First, thank you so much for reading the book and having me here! As to what inspired the book (other than my love of time loop stories, I mean): Wanting to write a fun, meaningful, accessible book that centered Jewish kids, inhabiting their communities—that wasn’t adjacent in some way to themes of either antisemitism (although those books are certainly important and needed) or kids struggling with their Jewish identities (a theme that, in some way, played into one of my last books, The Jake Show, also published by HarperCollins, in May 2023).


I wanted to write a story about kids who just are Jewish. It’s their reality, even if doesn’t necessarily drive the plot of the book. And also I love time loop stories.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Ezra and Finn?


A: Friends? Kind of. Sort of. Sometimes. When the book opens, they don’t know each other—but quickly begin spending more and more time in each other’s lives, as they work to try and break free of the time loop they’re trapped in: Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Over and over again.


Ezra is more reserved, more skeptical. Finn is frenetic, more adventurous. And they’re not always on the same page. But I do think they eventually realize they’re more alike than they think. And also: is there anyone any of us wouldn’t argue with if we were trapped in a never-ending time loop together?


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, in part, “Levy...puts a new spin on time loop tropes by infusing this energetic tale with Jewish sensibilities via Ezra’s more traditional family values and Finn’s more liberal upbringing, making for a delightfully offbeat read about becoming a man dozens of times over.” What do you think of that description?

A: This is a great question. I’ll try to answer it as genuinely as I can. There are parts of this review that I absolutely love and so appreciate. “[P]uts a new spin on time loop tropes by infusing this energetic tale with Jewish sensibilities” in particular; “making for a delightfully offbeat read about becoming a man dozens of times over” too.


But I’ll confess that the bit about the characters—“Ezra’s more traditional family values and Finn’s more liberal upbringing”—is not how I’d personally describe them.


I’ll say what I hope is obvious: I appreciate the challenge reviewers like Publishers Weekly have in needing to accurately and succinctly capture protagonists and their backgrounds in just a few words. And yeah, I get that those descriptions won’t always align with how the authors see the characters.


But that’s cool. While Ezra’s family is certainly Orthodox and Finn’s belongs to a (to borrow PW’s term) “more liberal” denomination of Judaism, I hope that neither this review nor the story itself makes either character inaccessible to any audience or representative of any implication (from me or the characters) that there is any right way to live, whether as a Jewish person or otherwise.


This answer is getting long, so I’ll finish up by (self-indulgently) quoting from other reviews’ takes on the subject.


Here’s Kirkus: “Ezra’s family attends a different synagogue and is more religious than Finn’s, so some of Ezra’s explanations to Finn will help readers who are unfamiliar with Judaism.”


And Booklist (first pointing out “Ezra’s boisterous and strongly Jewish Orthodox clan”) says: “The tale is embedded within such a rich matrix of Jewish customs that the story is likely to have an informational aspect for audiences of any belief or culture.”


Either way, I’m very pleased that all these reviews are attune to the Finn and Ezra’s different families—who I hope can serve as reflections of some readers’ communities, as well as windows into communities different from themselves. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: As important as the bar mitzvah framing is to the book, the story is ultimately about growing up and learning to appreciate what you have, while you have it. I hope readers walk away with a renewed sense of gratitude for their lives in the here and now—and have a ton of fun from beginning to end.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m always working on what I hope will be my next middle grade book—like Finn and Ezra: fun, funny, heartfelt, family-oriented, centering Jewish life in some way. Hope to be able to talk about that one more soon!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I suppose I’d add that—this year—I had a hand in another middle grade book, On All Other Nights (which came out on March 26, from Abrams/Amulet). It’s a short story anthology, each story inspired in some way by a different step of the Passover seder. I’m a co-editor of and contributing author to that project, which I’m also very proud of.


Thanks again for having me! Happy reading!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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