Emily Elizabeth Davis loves happy endings and she wants one for her own life, but there are a couple problems. First, she lives without knowing who her father is, and second, she seems to be trapped in a destiny determined for her before she was born.
Emily sets out to discover whether or not she can alter her destiny, but the situation quickly turns into a hunt for her misplaced copy of The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson in which her mother has recorded all the important events of her life, including the name of her father. With the help of her best friend and her cousin, Emily makes every effort to take charge of her own destiny, all the while wondering if her mother might be right–that a person can’t force things to happen and must simply wait for fate to unfold.
Kathryn Fitzmaurice is a brilliant writer. Her characters pop off the page, each with their little quirks and passions. But I think what I love best is how wonderfully woven together her plot is, starting with the epigraph, lines from an Emily Dickinson poem:
In this short Life
That only lasts an hour
How much–how little–is
Within our power
That’s really the focal point of the main character’s quest, and readers will likely find themselves weighing in on the subject in their own minds.
The brilliant part of the story is the way Kathryn weaves this central theme into the subplots involving the minor characters–Cecily Ann and her love of poetry, Wavey and her environmental causes, Mortie and the stray dog he named Samuel Morse, and even Conner Kelly and his choice of where to sit in class. And of course there is Emily’s mother.
Kathryn’s prose is beautiful–perhaps not as picturesque as her earlier books, but she’s writing a character who isn’t a poet, so the language fits her protagonist. It’s still lyrical and there’s still lots of creativity and fun.
Here’s a sample.
In the exchange below, Emily is talking with her best friend Wavey right after their science teacher, Mr. Hall, asked two boys in the class to carry some boxes for him to the storeroom, then for Emily and Wavey to pour ten milliliters of water into cylinders on the science table.
“Have you ever noticed how Mr. Hall never asks a girl to carry boxes?” I said to Wavey as we walked to the science table. “But he’ll ask us to do easy stuff, like pour water into graduated cylinders.”
“That’s because he thinks we’e too weak and frail to carry boxes.”
“It’s like Mr. Hall is living in that old movie Star Wars, where Princess Leia is waiting to be rescued by Luke and Han Solo, and all she can do is wait because she’s a girl,” I said.
“And then Luke breaks into the jail cell where she is, and she’s all, what took you so long to get here,” said Wavey.
“So he has to explain all the extremely dangerous things he did to get to her,” I told her.
“Which he can do because he’s a guy.”
“Meanwhile,” I said, “Princess Leia finally gets back to the ship, where everything is always in disrepair, mostly because of Han being the type of guy he is.”
“But Mr. Hall, who is Luke, would be like, why don’t you just sit down and rest,” said Wavey.
“Or make coffee,” I added.
“She could make coffee and then paint her nails.”
“While lounging around letting Han carry heavy boxes of spaceship parts,” I said.
“Which he would have because he’d know how to fix anything mechanical,” added Wavey.
“At which point, I said, “Chewie would come in and say something only Han understood.”
“And Han would have to pilot the ship through an enemy attack while at the same time repairing some gauge that their life depended on.”
“And Princess Leia would be letting her nails dry,” I told her.
“While reading a magazine,” said Wavey.
“And pouring sugar into her coffee.”
“This is like that,” Wavey told me.
“I know,” I agreed, filling the last graduated cylinder with ten milliliters of water. “This is exactly like that.”
I might have initially enjoyed that exchange because of the Star Wars references, speculative fiction lover that I am, but there are a couple similar dialogues between Emily and Wavey later on, and I found those equally delightful.
In fact, the whole story is delightful and even heartwarming.
Whether this is actually a weakness or not, you can determine. The book was almost strangely without angst. Emily lost her book because of something her cousin did, but she held no grudge and didn’t seek any kind of payback. Wavey faced a difficulty toward the end of the story but quickly bounced back. Emily did something I won’t say what because it would be too big a spoiler, and her mother reacted with amazing calm.
To be honest, in this day of angst-filled young adult books, I found this story to be refreshing. The problem was big, mind you, at least to Emily, and certainly the question about destiny could be one kids her age might begin to wonder about. I felt her tension throughout the story, but there was not much tension between people.
In the scene I quoted from above, for example, Emily and Wavey didn’t seem to hold any ill will toward their science teacher. Further, throughout the story there was a lack of bickering and backbiting and scolding. Because of this, it was honestly a more delightful read, though I can see some thinking the characters lack a bit of believability.
Another thing, and again, readers will have to judge if this is actually a weakness, Emily seemed to have an innocence, almost a naivete, and at the same time remarkable freedom to go places without adult supervision. I thought the tension between these two factors kept the story in balance, but I can see how others might question the realism of the circumstances.
Buy it. Read it to your kids, read it with your kids, discuss it with your kids. What a great book to begin a family conversation about who controls your destiny.
I received a copy of this book as a gift from the author with no strings attached.