Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis is a book I hope everyone gets to read before our discussion. Emma-Jean is a uniquely lovable character. Her growth and development as a character is undeniable, the descriptions of her 7th grade classmates are great, and the images of her homelife are memorable. Both Emma-Jean and this book are very strange.
This was a pretty impressive book I thought. The narrative voice could have been overdone to the point of being distracting or completely unbelievable, but it was just right. And Emma Jean's unique way of looking at the world was both perceptive and clueless at the same time. And very funny. Alternating EJ with the other girl worked effectively, and both girls changed in convincing (if a little predictable) ways.
I read (almost) the entire book in one evening, and I just couldn't put it down! I loved the fresh voices of the characters, especially Emma Jean, but also Colleen. Reading this took me right back to 7th grade, where the everyday events of girls can be sooo dramatic. But, Emma Jean stands out as such an individual, kudos to her for being true to herself, but still taking a risk to get involved with the "messy....irrational....disorder" of the lives of her peers. Just re-reading the first chapter makes me laugh out loud, EJ's character comes out so strongly in her voice.
Excellent characterization is the strong point of this book, I believe. Every character has a purpose and performs it well. The teachers Ms. Wright and Mr. Petrowski, Vikram, EJ's mom, the school janitor. Even Vikram's mother in India, who has a very spare part, plays an important role. And how refreshing to read a novel about a tween girl who has a good relationship with her mother that's not too sweet and fake, but very natural.
Emma-Jean Lazarus is a strange girl. (Strange adj: extraordinary, remarkable, singular) With a point of view indicative of a future anthropologist, she puzzles over the moody and erratic behavior of her fellow 7th graders, and when she stumbles upon one of her classmates crying when she isn’t one of the criers, Emma-Jean sets her scientific mind to helping solve problems for both students and teachers and even her family’s renter. Of course, Emma-Jean’s very rational solutions have irrational (and highly amusing) results.
This is a short quick read. Emma-Jean’s stilted analytical voice takes a little getting used to, but it really sets the tone for the story. Although the characters are in Jr. High, it’s appropriate for younger readers. It says a lot about friendship, what being nice really is, and how teenage girls bully each other without ever becoming preachy.