Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell In Love

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell in Love by Lauren Tarshis. Random House Audiobook, 2009. Reviewed from audiobook from publisher. Hardcover published by Dial, a Division of Penguin. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Emma-Jean Lazarus, an astute observer of her fellow seventh graders at William Gladstone Middle School, watches as her friends fuzz over the upcoming dance and worry about what boy they'll ask. She decides their behavior is a result of spring fever - and then realizes that she, too, has fallen prey to spring fever.

The Good: I adore Emma-Jean. Mamie Gummer narrates the audiobook version, and she captures Emma-Jean's view of the world perfectly. A clip can be heard at Random House Audio's website. Then, when the third person POV switches to that of Emma-Jean's friend, Colleen, Mamie's voice does an equally wonderful job at capturing the personality of this girl who is very different from Emma-Jean.

Emma-Jean fell in love is equal parts mystery (which boy left a note in Colleen's locker?) and middle school politics and friendship. Emma-Jean has a unique look at the world; from the first, I imagined her as mini Temperance Brennan from the TV show Bones. Smart, logical, observant, removed; and like Brennan, with loving friends and family. Emma-Jean on seventh grade boys: "She had been observing her fellow seventh graders for many years, trying to understand them better and she had long ago concluded that it was simply the boys' nature to be rambunctious on occasion."

Colleen is the emotional opposite of Emma-Jean. On thinking about the upcoming dance, she "kept thinking of Noah's Ark -- about all the pigs and pandas and gorillas and ladybugs and how they'd all marched two by two, two by two, two by two onto the ark. Except for the unicorn, who couldn't find a boy who liked her, so she was left behind. To drown in the flood. Colleen was the unicorn."

Is Colleen boy-obsessed? Yes and no; she is a seventh grader, who wants a boy to like her and to feel special because one person likes her best. She and Emma-Jean balance each other; Emma-Jean is confident without a boy liking her back. She marches to her own drummer; yet Emma-Jean is not without emotion. She, too, gets swept into love. She just handles it differently than Colleen.

Readers don't have to have read Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree to enjoy this second story about Emma-Jean and Colleen; but Emma-Jean is so delightful, why not read both?

Emma-Jean is unique; the switch between Emma-Jean and Colleen helps the reader to see both how Emma-Jean sees her world and how others see her. To elementary and middle school kids, where "other" and "different" and "odd" are often "wrong," this is a great peak into how another person views the world and how "different" is just that -- different. Not better or worse; and equally able to be a great friend as the person who is just like you and does what everyone expects. The Emma-Jeans of the world are usually alone, and even though they may be happy enough being alone, how much nicer when they -- like Emma-Jean -- have friends. I'm not surprised to see that the author, Lauren Tarshis, has an anti-bullying guide at her website.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


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Karen said...

I just finished this last weekend and was going to post my thoughts today or tomorrow. I'm glad you enjoyed it also.

laurasalas said...

I love Emma-Jean, and this second book is on my to read list. Can't wait to get to it, and I think the comparison to Brennan is spot on. She's not quite set in her ways enough to qualify as Asperger's, but she's definitely got those kind of characteristics, socially speaking.