CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 27 . . . . March 16, 2012
Emily for Real.
Toronto, ON: Pajama Press, 2012.
196 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
Coming of age-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
I suddenly know exactly what I have to do. Itís more like an impulse than a plan because right now by brainís on shutdown. I go to the bottom drawer of my desk and dig out my photo album thatís mostly filled with pictures of Brian and me. I pick up the scissors and take everything over to my bed. My heartís squeezed tight and Iím shaking inside.
Then I start. Page by page, picture by picture, I remove any ones that have Brian in them. If itís just him, I cut a clean diagonal right across the middle, letting one half fall dead on the bed and throwing the other half on top of the pile. If itís a picture of him with me, I carefully slice him off, and for some reason I save the piece with me in it.
After a while, thereís a pile of Brian corpses lying there staring at nothing, and the pages of my album are all patched up with slices and triangles and scraps of pictures of me. In every one of these sliced-up pictures, I look stranded. Like there was an earthquake and Iím left on the edge of some kind of half-destroyed world.
Instead of feeling better, I feel worse. Like Iím not really me anymore I donít feel like crying. I donít feel like anything.
I know Iíll have to get rid of the sliced-up pictures of Brian before anyone sees them and has a chance to know how truly crazed I am.
Brian has gone to university, found a new girlfriend and broken up with 17-year-old Emily. After purging him from her picture album, it just seems right to keep the news to herself. She isnít ready to share the secret of what is happening in her life. Secrets, in fact, are the cornerstone of Emilyís family, although she has yet to learn this. Her grandfather kept secrets which only were told after his death and which result in Emilyís learning that her father has a stepsister whom he never knew. Emilyís own parents have also kept a secret from her, never telling her that she is, in fact, adopted and, in reality, knows her birth mother very well Ė just not as a parent. Just when she feels life couldnít get more complicated, Emily meets Leo, a new guy who has just arrived at her school. They become good friends, and Leo gradually becomes someone she can trust. He understands the complexities of family issues since his dad is rarely around, his mother is an alcoholic, and, therefore, Leo is often left with the care of his little sister.
The plot of Emily for Real has enough secrets, twists and turns to keep any soap opera fan happy. Emilyís ex-boyfriend never really takes shape, other than as she re-imagines her time with him. Leo becomes a friend once Emily can see below the surface of anger and aggression, but the novel never really explores his personality nor their relationship. And just to add another dimension, Gunnery introduces another potential boyfriend, Jacob, in the closing chapters of the story.
While Emily, herself, seems like a fairly realistic character who is trying to deal with the death of her grandfather, the opening up of old secrets which threaten her very family life as she knows it and the usual ups and downs of high school relationships, the other teens in the book seem stereotyped and less than believable. The adult characters also seem one-dimensional. Emilyís father and Aunt Em never really give the reader insight into their thoughts or actions, and other adult characters seem to come and go just in order to fill the demands of the plot. Emilyís mother at least shows more emotion and humanity, even if both of these often involve anger.
Young adult readers, especially females, will enjoy reading about the challenges Emily faces and will cheer her on throughout the book, and she attempts to unravel the secrets which have been woven around her. The novel is readable and mostly plot-driven which will keep readers interested in finding out the details and what eventually happens to Emily. Ironically, many of the events and characters just donít seem as ďrealĒ as the title would suggest.
Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.
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