Leaving Emma by Nancy Steele Brokaw;
Clarion Books: New York, 1999; $15
Having a best friend can make a kid feel like she’s on top of the world. I know, because I have had the same best friend since I was less than two years old. But if something should happen with that best friend, and especially if she were your only friend, it could be terrifying. In Nancy Steele Brokaw’s book, Leaving Emma, terrified is just how Emma feels when her best friend Tem announces that she has to move at the end of the school year. To make matters worse, Emma’s father tells her that he has to go far away for five months and Emma’s mom is so absorbed in her own problems that she can’t even help. Emma feels as though her life is wrecked.
Tumbling even further down from her perfect perch, Emma has to deal with dreaded Great-Aunt Grace who played music that “sounded exactly like those old monster movies when the lights in the castle go out, and the thunder crashes all around, and someone is about to be killed.” Emma can’t even tolerate when Aunt Grace comes to dinner!
In order to deal with the fear and anger of everyone leaving her, Emma manages to patch together a few talents she barely knew she had. By making some new friends who share her love of art and by confronting other problems, Emma makes it through some difficult times and comes out more than OK. Emma even figures out a way to replace one after-school activity which she had been doing merely to please her father with another activity which she loved, was good at and received much praise for.
The characters in Leaving Emma could be typical people in your own neighborhood. Emma describes one nasty girl, Meagan VanHook, as “the most beautiful, talented, intelligent girl in Northpoint Middle School, and if you weren’t sure about that, you could just ask her.” Throughout the story, Brokaw’s vivid descriptions of feelings and situations seem very realistic. Writing “whatever color concrete was, that was the color of my thoughts” made me really understand Emma’s melancholy.
Leaving Emma is studded with laughs and thoughts which come together to make this a good book. I would never have chosen this book myself, yet I am glad that I read it and hope you will enjoy it, too. This book is for anyone who enjoys reading about kid problems and has a good sense of humor.