Monday, June 13, 2011

Review of I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson

Atkinson, Elizabeth.  I, Emma Freke.  Carolrhoda, 2010.

As befitting a post written during vacation, this will be brief.

Middle school is a time when many kids feel freakish.  Though I looked more or less normal, I felt freakish on the inside.  Emma, however, wears her freakishness on the outside.  At 12 years old, she is almost 6 feet tall with bright red hair.  It's sort of hard to pretend to be invisible with those sorts of looks.  And then of course there's that name, which her mother didn't bother to say aloud before writing it on the birth certificate.

Emma's father is long gone, but she has always been curious about him, so she leaps at a surprise invitation to attend the annual Freke Family gathering in Wisconsin.  And just as she had hoped, there are Frekes galore, many as tall and red-headed as Emma.  In fact, her relatives consider her a beauty.  And it seems that Freke is pronounced not "freak" but "frecky."  What a relief!

But... to say that the Freke gathering is highly regimented is an understatement.  Every minute of the day is accounted for, and no one is allowed to stray from the plan.   Emma risks the condemnation of the tyrannical matriarch Pat Freke, as well as her newfound friends, in order to hang out with the black sheep of the family, a kid who stands out among the Frekes as much as Emma did among her classmates back home.

Everything is just exaggerated enough to make it clear it's a summer novel and not to be taken hugely seriously - so although Emma's mom is problematic with her numerous boyfriends, her Italian grandpa and his elderly dog are goofy and lovable.  The Freke family's lock-step style isn't realistic, but their kindness to Emma is warm, and it's easy to see how compelling it is to feel a sense of belonging for the first time in her life.

This is a light and satisfying read for ages 10 to 12.

(One quibble with the jacket art - this girl does not look like a long and lean 6-footer to me, and I can't imagine why Emma would jump and toss her hair in quite this odd manner.  I'm tired of photos of people on jacket covers and say we go back to drawings.  You know who would have done a great cover for this book?  Trina Schart Hyman!)

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