What’s it about?
The Bar Mitzvah and the Beast is about an SF Bay Area family that bikes across the country. Why? Well, the father is Jewish and his turning-13-year-old son is an atheist. The father (Matt, also the author) wants to mark his son’s passage into his teenage years; the son tries to go to Hebrew school and have a Bar Mitzvah, but just can’t. So a cross-country bike ride is their compromise. They spend a summer riding from San Francisco to Washington DC. The whole family goes – Matt, his wife, Yonah (the son), and his little brother. (The Beast is an old tandem bike that they buy for Matt & the little brother to ride across the country.)
Why should you read it?
I am not religious (to my mind, you can’t prove either the existence or non-existence of god and I don’t worry about it that much), so I sympathized with Yonah. But I did like the idea of commemorating your child’s passage into their teenage years. My daughter is eleven and as she moves from her childhood to being a teenager, she is changing. Acknowledging that somehow, formally or informally, seems worthwhile. I’d never really thought about that before reading The Bar Mitzvah and the Beast.
The book was strongest when it was talking about Yonah’s rite of passage. It also wanted to be about overcoming your prejudices and drawing awareness to global warming. The marriage of the three themes wasn’t successful to my mind. But it’s still worthwhile.