On Sunday at the MLA conference, I had the opportunity to meet Elizabeth Atkinson. I was a little more than halfway through her tween book I, Emma Freke. It was a wonderful (and rare) experience to be able to speak with the author of the book I was currently reading. I plan to post later on about her workshop, entitled “Empowering Tweens through Story” but for now, I’ll just give you my thoughts about the book.
Emma Freke (pronounced “freak”) knows that she lives up to her last name. She’s a tall, gangly 12 year old who towers over everyone in her grade. She also has bright red hair, which makes her even easier to spot in a crowd. Any outgoing, sociable person might not be bothered by these traits, but for shy Emma, her unusual appearance is like the kiss of death. She feels awkward and uncomfortable socially around people her own age. Emma has never felt like she has belonged in her family (she even thinks that she might be adopted). However, this is not the case, and she decides to take a journey halfway across the country to meet the other side of the family, which she greatly resembles. It takes this independent adventure to inspire Emma to believe in herself. She not only gains self-confidence during the family reunion, she also inspires her family to stand up for what is right.
I really enjoyed this realistic, humorous look at tween life. I think tweens would enjoy the book because it so accurately captures the awkward “growing pains” of being twelve. You think that you’re a freak (even if that’s not your last name) and you enter every social interaction with the fear that others will draw attention to what makes you different. The book’s inclusion of non-traditional families (Emma’s friend is adopted, and she herself is being raised by a single mother) will spark conversations with tweens about what family means and stress the importance that the family structure is secondary to the love and support a family can provide.
Recommendation: 4 out of 5 lupines