Through a compelling third-person narrative, first novelist Tarshis completely inhabits the character of an eccentric seventh-grader who will quickly win over readers. Emma-Jean Lazarus misses her father, who died two years ago and from whom she inherited an analytical mind. She does not always understand her "often irrational" peers and finds their lives "messy." She "thus made it her habit to keep herself separate, to observe from afar." One day, however, she discovers kind, sensitive Colleen in the girls' bathroom and decides to come to her aid. (The narrative occasionally shifts to Colleen's perspective, offering insight into how the heroine comes across to her classmates.) Emma-Jean takes her cue from the philosophy of Jules Henri Poincaré (a French mathematician whom her late father revered), who believed that "even the most complex problems could be solved through a process of creative thinking." Her well-intentioned efforts with Colleen and with others don't always hit their mark, but this slightly socially awkward, big-hearted outsider learns from her experiences. Other fully realized characters who show compassion and understanding to Emma-Jean include her mother, a wise and kind custodian, her teacher and especially Vikram, a doctoral student and the Lazaruses' boarder, who takes on a special significance to both mother and daughter. Readers will cheer on Emma-Jean as she begins to see more clearly and enter more fully the world around her, messiness and all. Ages 8-up. (Mar.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Jennifer Mitchell
Emma-Jean is a bit different from the other seventh-grade students at William Gladstone Middle School. Emma-Jean loves to study things around her. She studies the local flora and fauna as well as her peers. She finds her classmates interesting but a bit illogical at times. In the past, she has refused to become involved in interactions with them, but a recent development with Colleen has shown Emma-Jean just how much her assistance is needed. Emma-Jean must draw on previous studies of her peers, love from her family, and a little help from Jules Henri Poincare to solve the problem. Her creative solutions work wonders, and she begins to reach out to help others. Everything runs smoothly until the school bully gets involved. Things quickly spiral out of control for both Colleen and Emma-Jean. The resulting aftermath changes things forever. This often humorous tale has some twists and turns that will surprise some readers. This gem of a book lends itself to a discussion of bullying (especially girl bullying), loss, friendship, character change, learning differences, and problem solving. This book links well with The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita, and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.
At the beginning of this incisively voiced story, Emma-Jean Lazarus, a self-possessed but socially isolated seventh-grade girl, has no friends her own age. In fact, Tarshis's winning heroine views her classmates as an anthropologist might, observing them with great interest, but not really getting their strangely irrational behavior. And they, in turn, view her as simply strange. This begins to change when Emma-Jean comes across classmate Colleen Pomerantz sobbing her heart out in the bathroom. Colleen needs help in dealing with a girl bully, or as Emma-Jean sees it, the alpha chimp of Colleen's social set. Emma-Jean decides that she'll help Colleen and, later, others by utilizing the reasoning of her deceased father's hero, the illustrious mathematician Jules Henri Poincare. However, emotions have a way of defying logical analysis, and after a while, Emma-Jean discovers that she's become entangled-not only with peers, but with friends. The comic juice in the story comes from Emma-Jean's hyper-rational yet totally skewed take on reality, and her evolution from analyst to actor makes for a captivating, highly satisfying read. (Fiction. 8-12)