I read these two little book gems in no time at all. Fun quick reads. They are actually middle-grade fiction, but we haven't had a YA Weekend feature in a while, so here you go.
In the first book by Lauren Tarshis, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree, we meet the title character. She's an interesting seventh grader with a mind of her own. She does not go along with the crowd and in fact, often does not understand her peers' behavior. Emma-Jean has a most logical and literal mind. She is still mourning the loss of her father two years earlier. He seemed to be the only person besides her mother who really understood her. She tends to live in her own little world filled with scientific wonder, analyzing the trees and flowers around her. Until one day, she happens upon Collen Pomerantz crying in the girl's bathroom. Emma-Jean is not entirely sure how to handle the situation. Usually, she refrains from interacting with her peers. But for some reason, she is drawn to Colleen and asks her what is wrong. Colleen bursts telling Emma-Jean all about her friend problems. In one fell swoop, Emma-Jean's world changes and she vows to help Colleen with her problem. This is the beginning of Emma-Jean's new-found interest in helping those around her, sometimes unbeknowst to the person she is helping. In the end, Emma-Jean's help ends up hurting Colleen unintentionally and everyone learns some valuable lessons about friendship, helping others, and figuring out their true-self.
I really enjoyed this book about seventh graders. I found Emma-Jean amusing (if maybe slightly unrealistic--it's hard to believe someone so detached from the emotional world and so literal can exist--but maybe I just haven't met anyone like Emma-Jean yet). Also, I found Tarshis' seventh grade world very realistic. Emotions were central to the story, not so much the academic side of school. This is so true in middle-school where every little thing between friends gets blown out proportion and seems like the end of the world. I also really liked how Tarshis portrays Emma-Jean as a bit odd and the other kids sort of accept her at face-value. They do not really taunt her or tease her for being odd. She definitely could have been socially tortured if Tarshis chose to write the book that way. But instead, this is a very positive portrayal of a child going against the current. I also found the character of Colleen to be very well-written. She is a very typical seventh grade girl who wants to fit in with the popular girls, but isn't sure she really wants to go along with the crowd. She is trying to figure out how to fit in, but still be who she wants to be and she's figuring out who that person.
Just a very charming book! This would be an awesome gift for a middle-school girl who is maybe feeling like she doesn't quite fit in. But really a nice gift for any middle-school girl, I think anyone could get something out of it.
The sequel, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love is due out sometime this month! So those of you who read the first one and loved it can now rush out and buy the sequel!
Emma-Jean is trying to negotiate her new world of friendship with Colleen and a few other girls. She also realizes that she has a crush on a boy! Emma-Jean is not sure what is going on at first, but every time she looks at Will Keeler her heart jumps into a predictable beating rhythm. After discussing this with her mother, she learns she is experiencing her first crush! To top all this off, the kids at school are all suffering from Spring Fever thanks to the Spring Fling dance coming up. The girls are supposed to ask the boys to the dance. You can imagine all the discussion among the girls and plotting this creates. Emma-Jean is new to this social world and tries to figure it all out. She still continues to try to help people, though more learily (hmm...is that a word?) after what happened with Colleen the first time she tried to help her. Emma-Jean also deals with her mother's impending engagement to one of Emma-Jean's favorite people. There is romance in the air all throughout this novel.
Again, Tarshis creates a very acccurate and fun account of seventh grade life. And although, I enjoyed this book very much, I believe I liked the first one just a bit better. The issues in this book seemed just a bit more superficial, but just a tiny bit. 4.5/5 stars for Emma-Jean Fell Out of a Tree and 4/5 stars for the sequel.
Thank you so much to Samantha from Penguin for sending the sequel to me! I borrowed the first one from the library so that I could be properly introduced to the world of Emma-Jean. I hope there are more books in this series in the future. I'll be sure to read them!
Other reviews: Abby (the) Librarian, Bending Bookshelf, A Patchwork of Books