Saturday, August 07, 2010

I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson

Emma Freke doesn’t have it easy.Why couldn’t her mother have at least said her name aloud before naming her: “am a freak”?That is exactly how Emma feels.She doesn’t fit in with her expressive Italian mom, Donatella, who likes to leave out the fact that she has a daughter while she is meeting potential suitors.Her Nonno, who lives with them above their bead shop, is either asleep in his chair or out walking the dog. And you can imagine what school can be like for a 5’ 10’’ tall 11-year-old with her name.

Donatella, in a rare instance of maternal action, gives Emma a thoughtful birthday gift this year. Home-schooling! Donatella says that Emma’s Nonno will help out with the teaching by bringing Emma to the library daily, as home-schooled kids generally do.Emma realizes that the materials her mom gave her to use are a bit dated, so she enlists the librarian Stevie, to suggest some more recent workbooks at a higher grade-level. Stevie makes a few phonecalls, and Emma isn’t really surprised to hear that Donatella didn’t exactly go through the proper channels to get Emma into home-schooling in the first place. This makes Emma think on something that her neighbor and best friend Penelope planted in her brain…maybe Emma, like Penelope, is actually adopted. It would explain a few things. She doesn’t look like her mom or her other relatives, and she certainly doesn’t act like them.

No such luck. In an unexpected turn of events, Emma is soon whisked off to the Freke family reunion. She knows that her own father who she has never met will not be there due to a rift in his own family relations, but maybe Emma will find some sense of place in her namesake family.

Elizabeth Atkinson has written a story about family and finding your place in it. What is a family, after all? Can you ever fight how you fit in yours? What traits do you pull from the folks who raise you, and what do you get from genetics? It’s also a story about finding your voice, your courage and your confidence. Diversity of all sorts is woven into the story, from Phoebe’s lesbian moms, and Phoebe’s own Liberian decent, to Emma’s own inter-generational family and her cousin Fred’s non-conformity. Feeling like the square peg is very understandable for tweens, and readers will be charmed by Emma’s journey.

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