Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree
By Lauren Tarshis
I loved this book. I loved this book. It’s quirky and fun, and I think everyone should read it just for the sake of reading. I will not tell you another word about it in this little review here, because I think you should read it for yourself. On the Buried Editor’s rating scale, I give it 5 out of 5 wax seals of approval.
However, I am going to talk more about this book from a writing/editing perspective. The rest of my discussion will be full of spoilers unfortunately. So, what I suggest you do is run out and get this book today. Read it (it’s short, you can read it in a day), and then come back here to read the rest of the post. That way, you get the joy of an unprejudiced reading of the book, but you still get to read my thoughts regarding it. It’s the best of both worlds.
This is one of those books that I think every serious children’s Midgrade and YA author should read. There is so much about this book that is done right. Obviously it has a good plot and compelling characters. Every good book that makes it to market has those. This book has writing that goes above the standard book; writing that makes it outstanding. Let’s pick it apart:
This book has not only one, but two distinct voices. The book is told from the two (very close) Point of Views of Emma-Jean and Colleen. The POVs alternate between chapters so there is never any confusion as to whose thoughts we are having insight too. However, this is one of the few books, that had the author chosen, she could have gotten away with midchapter POV shifts. I never recommend an author doing this. It requires great skill to seamlessly move between characters’ thoughts. David does this in his Words of Power Trilogy (his book was the one I was asking for opinions on the ARC cover), but he is the only author I have so far let do this. And he does it seamlessly. David does this by having such distinct voices for each of his characters that there is never any confusion.
Tarshis does the same thing in her book. Emma-Jean is analytical, rational, and doesn’t understand her fellow classmates. She tries to use logic at all times. As a great character quirk that helps with Emma-Jean’s voice, she never seems to speak in contractions. Colleen, on the other hand, is your “average 7th grade wannabe girl” who tries to please everyone and manages to please no one, including herself. Her chapters have the feel of stream of consciousness, without actually being stream of consciousness. Tarshis weaves in Colleen’s obsessions and worries while still keeping the flow of the story. It’s impressive and well done.
Tarshis makes extensive use of subplots. Although the characters develop in a normal arc, the plot isn’t quite that simple. The main plot involves Emma-Jean helping Colleen solve a problem. But this plot wouldn’t fill the pages of what is already a small book, so there are several other small plots along the way. All of them involve Emma-Jean trying to help solve problems so that they dovetail nicely into the main plot. Of course a bulk of the chapters deal with the main plot, but the subplots flesh out Emma-Jean’s character. At the time, the subplots seem a bit random, but the last chapter brings all the different plot strands together and ties them up nicely. You realize every word in the book was necessary for it to work. And that brings me to:
I’ve mentioned before that this book is short. It has no unnecessary words, no tangents, no authorial interruptions. Every scene, every paragraph even, does double and triple duty. You are always learning about the characters, and every scene also moves along the plot or sets the scene or provides necessary information. No detail is wasted. It turns out to be important later on. I admire such concise, focused writing. Even if this doesn’t happen to be your traditional writing style, there can still be much that can be learned from it.
And of course the most important thing about the book is that it was a good read. I enjoyed it, and I hope you will too. Fuse #8 has it as one of her longshots for the next Newberry. Her article is A Fuse #8 Production: And Speaking of the Newbery: Newbery 2008 Predictions. I got to say I’m rooting for it to get at least an Honor Medal.
May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.