Emma Jean Lazarus is not your typical 7th grade girl. She is “strange” (dictionary definition: extraordinary, remarkable, singular) and proud of it. Emma Jean approaches her interactions with her peers as a cultural anthropology study. After years of study, she has learned how to interact with her classmates and the adults in her life. In fact, she thinks she knows them better than they know themselves. Throughout the novel, she is determined to help her classmates, her mother, and her teachers be happy and fulfilled. Unfortunately, her ideas usually involve forgery of some sort. As one can imagine, this has a tendency to backfire on her.
I finished this novel a few months ago. I usually don’t go back and review something after that time period because I have forgotten about it. However, Emma Jean (and Lauren Tarshis) left an impression on me. Tarshis captures the heart and soul of middle school in her novel. Emma Jean is strange. No one will deny that. However, her classmates have learned to tolerate her and even include her. While reading the novel, I pictured a few of my own students. I wish they appreciated being “strange” as much as Emma Jean does.
Emma isn’t the only great character in this novel. Colleen is a 7th grade girl. You know- insecure, sometimes sad, and always unsure of herself. One of my favorite passages could be used to describe almost every girl in my 6th grade room at some point during the year: “She wished she could recapture the feeling she’d had the other day at school, when for just a few moments she really didn’t care what Laura Gilroy thought of her. But that had lasted no longer than the flavor in a stick of sugarless bubble gum” . The boys in the book are also equally oblivious to the goings on around them as the boys I see everyday. I laugh, because they don’t even realize all of “girl world” is going on around them (and about them!) while they go about their daily business. Lauren Tarshis captures this perfectly. Even the adults are flawed and imperfect. Exactly what every middle-schooler sees in the adults in their own lives.
I would love to read this aloud to my students next year. It is not a long novel and I hope to fit it in. In fact, it is on my short list for novels to begin the year with. I believe in building community in my classroom and no other book I have read this year and struck that theme as greatly as Emma Jean Lazarus.