I, Emma Freke is a middle-grade novel by author Elizabeth Atkinson. It was released in August 2010 by Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing.
Smart, shy, and nearly six feet tall, Emma Freke is only 12 years old. She hates her appearance, and she hates not fitting in at school—so her mother’s idea to teach her from home seems like the perfect solution. Except that from day one, everything about the plan goes wrong. For one, her mother “planned” for Emma’s grandfather to be the one to teach her–except she forgot to mention to him. Her mother also apparently forgot to mention it to Emma’s school. Within a week, the school contacts their family to inform her that Emma will have to return to school and will not be approved for home teaching.
Depressed, Emma begins to feel hopeful again when she receives a tantalizing envelope in the mail—an invitation to the Freke family reunion, which happens to be a camping trip. Emma is thrilled at the chance to finally meet her father and lots of other people she’ll fit in with!
But once surrounded by a bunch of Frekes, Emma soon realizes that they’re not as much like her as she had expected. And that she’s got more going for her than she ever realized.
The Nindo Perspective
The publisher classified I, Emma Freke as being appropriate for kids 9-12 years old. I’d say that’s pretty close, but I’m inclined to think the book is better suited to the early end of that range, say 9 or 10 years old. Eleven and 12-year-olds will be likely to get bored before they’re through the work.
The book is written from the perspective of Emma, who is always obsessing over her “freakishness”, as she sees it. Even her name proclaims what she is, she points out numerous times throughout the book: “Emma Freke = Am A Freak”. The number of times Emma obsesses on this point is a little annoying–but perhaps Atkinson felt it was necessary to remind young readers how Emma feels about herself. Over and over. And over. Just in case they start to forget. And once more….
It is interesting to note that most of the “freakish” comments about Emma come from Emma, herself, in the form of internal self-speak, rather than from those around her. She feels different, and she looks different, and she believes that everyone rejects her because of it. Even when Emma’s mother tries to treat her as an equal rather than a child (okay, her mom probably goes a little too far with this), Emma interprets her mother’s actions as a lack of love. It’s just one more example, from Emma’s perspective, of others rejecting her.
Emma does have several good friends in the book. One of them is her friend from the beginning–the others, she meets during the course of the story. It’s nice for young readers to see positive examples of friendship, and Emma’s recognition of the positive relationship.
As for Emma’s relationship with her mother, it’s not what most people would consider conventional, or even acceptable–but her mother does love her, and makes a conscious effort to do the best for her daughter by not being overly restrictive, as her own mother had been when she was growing up.
In the beginning of I, Emma Freke, Emma is obsessed with finding her father, whom she has never met. And by the very end of the book, she does–but it’s a spectacularly disappointing episode. Why? The author doesn’t show it! In screenwriting, budding writers often make the mistake of dancing around the most emotional scenes–which is exactly the opposite of what they should do. Emotionequals drama, and drama is one of the main draws for audiences. Just as you wouldn’t want your favorite film to skip over the climactic scene, you don’t want a book to, either. When you invest hours to reading a novel, you want to personally witness the event the story was building up to. In I, Emma Freke, Atkinson brings readers right to the point where her aunt says, “Hey, Emma, here’s your dad. Thought you’d like to meet him.” Then SLAM…we’re thrown into a narrative by Emma of what happened–after the fact. Definitely not the choice of a seasoned writer. Not a good one, anyway.
Aside from this delectably fatal flaw, the book does have some redeeming aspects. The positive imagery of friendships is commendable, as is the theme that one can sometimes be too hard on oneself, and assume others are, as well. Best of all is that we see, through Emma, that being different can be a very good thing. And that although it may be difficult, we can summon strength from inside ourselves when the going gets tough–and that strength can change things for the better, in our own lives as well as the lives of those around us.
You can also view additional customer reviews of I, Emma Freke on Amazon’s site, as well.