Cover Image: Benji Zeb Is a Ravenous Werewolf

Benji Zeb Is a Ravenous Werewolf

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What a perfect way to ring in Passover (Pesach). Thank you, Deke, for providing mirrors for us Jewish readers and windows for non-Jewish ones!

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Endless thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for an advanced e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

"And for the first time, I really do feel like Shabbat is a sneak preview into HaOlam HaBa, because this? This calm that settles over me. The peace of being accepted. I could live in an eternity of that."

Deke Moulton has definitely become an auto-buy author for me. I will now read anything they publish, as their books bring me so much joy. I adored their debut, Don't Want to Be Your Monster, and this book was just as exceptional. Moulton does such an incredible job at depicting adolescence - Benji's voice and personality shined through in this novel, just like in their debut. Benji was at times hilarious, naive, scared, and anxious, but also incredibly precocious, brave, wise, and tenacious. His experience with anxiety broke my heart, but I loved how honest this portrayal was. I love how Moulton uses werewolves here as a metaphor for Jews and their experience with hatred and vicious antisemitism - from centuries ago to now. I loved the Hebrew and Yiddish embedded throughout; I truly felt the Kibbutz vibes, the sense of community and love. I loved how Jewish history was described, and I loved seeing it being told to Caleb, another character whom I adored.
I loved Caleb's attitude and humour, his heart, and his pain. I loved how Moulton showed realistic conversations, showing how people outside the Jewish faith and community would not be aware of our history, and the microaggressions and antisemitic libels that fester and influence the way Jews are perceived. I loved reading about the Chinese-American experience as well, as there were some aspects of history I was unaware of. The relationship between Calbe and Benji was simply adorable, and I loved watching them learn from each other, and be their truest, most vulnerable selves with one another. Again, the author's note at the end is essential reading. The message of the importance of community, the strength it takes to stand up to hate, to educate one another about our histories, and to learn to live with one another, engage in dialogue, and find common ground and understanding all shine beautifully here. It's a message I hope to see in our world soon.

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Deke is amazing at fusing Judaism and fantasy. I absolutely adored this book. It was so timely, especially considering the rise in antisemitism. I cannot wait to have my nephew read this book. I think he, as the target audience of a Jewish 10 year old boy, would devour this book as quickly as I did.

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Actual title: "Benji Zeb Is a Ravenous Werewolf".

A much more accurate title: "Benji Zeb Is an Anxiety-Ridden Jewish Teen".

I'm a big fan of fantasy/supernatural stories and Young Adult books, so the blurb, along with the cute cover for this one, sold me immediately.

Unfortunately, having grown up in an extremely rigid, evangelical household, I have less than zero interest in all things religion, so I was less than thrilled when the book turned out to be about 20% werewolf and 80% "Introduction to Jewish Culture, Customs, and Terminology 101."

I really enjoyed the werewolf and wolf sanctuary parts of the story, but sadly, it felt as though there were four pages on Jewish life and Benji's anxiety for every one wolf-related page. 😞

And with "werewolf" being right there in the title, I was expecting/hoping for quite a bit more action, instead of the story being largely contemplative and introspective.

To have been tagged as Middle Grade, I suspect that more action would also hold the interest of that target audience a bit better, too. I remember being a middle grade reader and I tended to lose interest quickly when MC’s were stuck too deeply in their own heads.

3 stars.

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I was expecting good things after reading Deke Moulton's middle-grade debut, Don't Want to Be Your Monster, but I was completely blown away by Benji Zeb is a Ravenous Werewolf!! I loved everything about this. The Jewish werewolf lore, the Talmudic discussions, the seamless integration of Jewish culture and tradition throughout. I laughed, I cried, I thought about the Yiddish word "paskudnyak" for the first time since I was a kid. Moulton tackles antisemitism, racism, and the political divisiveness in the United States, and somehow still manages to leave the reader feeling optimistic and hopeful for a better world. It was exactly the book I needed to read right now, and I think it is the book the world needs right now. I highly recommend this, for adults and young readers alike.

(Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.)

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Nobody does heartfelt paranormal MG like Deke Moulton. BENJI ZEB IS A RAVENOUS WEREWOLF is sweet, fun, and fierce in equal measure, dousing the classic werewolf tale with wonderfully sincere heapings of queerness and Jewishness. It's about transformation, courage, and finding your people--and yourself--when the world considers you monstrous. Benji stole my whole heart from page one. I cannot WAIT to see what this author does next.

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"Is this a kissing book?"

** spoiler alert **

I loved Deke Moulton's debut novel Don't Want to Be Your Monster. It was a strikingly original vampire story for middle grade readers with the Best Vampires Ever! I am therefore sorry to report that their second novel, Benji Zeb is a Ravenous Werewolf, a middle grade novel about Jewish werewolves, did not hit the spot for me in quite the same way.

I was surprised to learn that Jewish werewolves are a thing. In their Author's Note, Moulton reveals that this surprised them, too

"I didn’t even know we had our own werewolf mythology. Or that Jewish werewolf myth is built upon lines from Torah, and that rabbis, thousands of years ago, built a midrash around it (Midrash is a biblical exploration, like rabbinical fanfiction)."*

So that was fun -- in fact, I learned about a bunch of things I had not previously been familiar with before. That was the best part.

The problem was that, as a novel, it didn't really work for me. Our hero Benji somehow never really came into focus. Benji suffers from anxiety attacks, and, judging from the end matter, Moulton meant that to be an important facet of Benji's character, but I was barely aware of it as a distinctive trait -- that is, as something different from the anxiety everyone often feels.

Also, I found the story disappointing. It is, in unfairly sketchy outline: "Jewish community is pressured/attacked by bigots, then our hero makes everything all right with a Big Speech to one of the bigots." I couldn't make myself believe the "Big Speech solves everything" part.

Finally, for the Princess Bride question, "Is this a kissing book?"

Yes, yes it is.

I thank NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada for an advance reader copy of Benji Zeb is a Ravenous Werewolf. This review expresses my honest opinions. Release date 2-Jul-2024.

*The quote is from an advance reader copy and may change before publication. If necessary, this review will be corrected on the release date.

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WOW – a fabulous Middle Grade book about werewolves/shape shifting, Jewish identity, antisemitism & racism and struggles with sexual orientation.

Benji is a Jewish boy (and also sometimes werewolf) living in a Kibbutz in Washington. He faces feeling left out/different at school and has conflicting feelings about Caleb, a boy who he met last year, developed a crush on and now ignores him.

I loved the representation, of Jewish identity but also Chinese, and the customs and traditions of each.

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First off, I am totally jealous of Benji's torah portion. Mine was terrible. This wonderful and heartwarming book follows some of my favorite tropes and explores a side of werewolve mythology I've never seen before. I absolutely adore the "A "bully" and their victim have to work together to solve a magical mystery/go on an adventure/defeat a terrifying villain" concept that's been showing up in MG books lately. In evey story where this appears the kids end up as close friends when the bully realizes their methods are causing more pain than they intend and the the victim learns their bully is dealing with issues of their own. I also love how accurately this book portrayed the struggles of anxiety and unexpected stressors.

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Deke Moulton has shown, once again, that they’re the one to watch. Their ability to write age-appropriate middle grade fiction that is still engaging and enjoyable for adults is one that middle grade books desperately needs.

Like their debut novel, BZIARW tackles difficult topics without shying away from them or sugarcoating them. Benji is a Jewish werewolf and he faces antisemitism in his community and his personal life. Caleb is Chinese and is equally impacted by racism.

The lore of werewolves has a lot of antisemitic tropes baked in, so seeing Moulton flip it on its head and use a Torah portion as in-universe proof that ALL werewolves are descended from Benjamin, an undeniably Jewish figure, no matter where they’re from or what they look like, was as delightful as it was healing.

Non-Jewish readers will be able to learn a lot about Jewishness through Benji and his family and Jewish readers will revel in seeing themselves unabashedly, lovingly, and complexly portrayed on-page. The epitome of mirror/window literature.

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I absolutely adored Deke Moulton's DON'T WANT TO BE YOUR MONSTER. Not only was it a fantastic story, but I learned so much about the vampire myth, and some of the distasteful cultural origins thereof, that I was completely unaware of. With similar touchstones, BENJI ZEB IS A RAVENOUS WEREWOLF is such an absolutely perfect companion novel that one can assume they're taking place in the same Moultonverse. (Crossover novel, please!) The werewolf legend is given the same, thought-provoking and realistic treatment here -- and expanded upon with wonderful care and detail. Beyond all the wolfiness, is a truly fascinating window into other cultures and religions -- all presented with pitch-perfect clarity without risk of going over anyone's head. Further, the themes addressed (anxiety, antisemitism, homophobia, cultural divisions, and more) are so important for readers of all ages. Representation matters and Middle Grade novels are some of the most vital places where that representation should be featured. BENJI ZEB IS A RAVENOUS WEREWOLF is a stellar piece of writing and definitely earns this reviewer's highest recommendation. Plus - adorkable queer crushes! Bonus!

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I love werewolf stories, I love Jewish stories, so when I saw this I had to get my hands on it. Benji is working on preparing for his bar mitzvah but suddenly there’s extra stressors when someone is trying to break into his family’s kibbutz/wolf sanctuary to show how dangerous wolves are and Benji’s crush from school suddenly shifting into a werewolf. When you’ve already got anxiety and feel like you’re going to disappoint everyone if you don’t give a perfect speech at your bar mitzvah, this is a lot of extra weight to carry!

I really enjoyed the Jewish aspects of the story and the way the werewolf myth came from Jewish theology instead of traditional monstrous ideas of werewolves. I especially loved a part near the end where an elder explains how all werewolves originate from Benjaminites but due to impacts of diaspora and historical persecutions, people don’t always know they have Jewish ancestry until they shift and find a community of other wolves. There are some really great characters and family moments throughout. I also really liked how things resolved in the end.

Overall this is an interesting take on werewolves and a fantastic Jewish story.

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC in exchange for my honest review!

Deke is not only a great person, but they are a great storyteller as well. I loved this as well as her debut Don't Want to Be Your Monster. I’ve learned so much about Judaism and being Jewish from these books. Having to look things up and learn has been so insightful. I would have never thought about any of this before, which means children reading these books might feel the same way. I finished this up in one day because it is short and also because it was enjoyable and fun to read, which you also need for a children’s book.

Benji was such a relatable MC. I felt for him through his anxiety and his longing to be able to express his true self to his family. I think we’ve all had moments as kids where we aren’t sure if we ready to tell them things about ourselves because we fear for their reactions. Benji being anxious and being gay were huge things for him to have to get off his chest. He felt like it was easier to be a wolf and not have to worry about the anxieties and pressure of being human.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Caleb at first. He came off as a show off and a bit of a jerk, but he grew on me as the story progressed. He’s obviously just a kid who feels unwanted and unloved and can’t express himself. I’m glad we got a lot of his story and got to see the real him behind his façade.

I wish there were more of the side characters. I was glad to see Rachel again at the end, but she gets lost for most of it. She seemed like a good friend who was willing to stand up for Benji, but she’s also barely there. I’m just glad Benji was able to stand up for himself after a while.

The message of tolerance and forgiveness is so powerful in this book. The conflict resolution is done in a way I know I wouldn’t be able to because I’m a vindictive adult, but seeing kids work things out and make peace made me so happy. Seeing Benji be strong was so inspiring. I love the messages that were sprinkled throughout the story. Be yourself and be accepting. You aren’t trying to make the world exactly like you. You are trying to make the world accept EVERYONE and everyone is allowed to be happy in their culture, religions, and practices. This was a refreshing middle grade book that I will recommend highly.

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