Monday Book Review: Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things by Kathryn Burak

This is my third of the five nominees for best Young Adult Mystery for the 2013 Edgars.

IMG_3684Title: Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things

Author: Kathryn Burak

Genre: Mystery

Age group: Young Adult

Synopsis: After Claire’s mother commits suicide and her best friend goes missing, she and her father move to Amherst, Massachusetts, home of poet Emily Dickinson.  Her dad hopes this second chance at completing her senior year of high school will help Claire move on. However, Claire ends up sneaking into the Emily Dickinson house one night. This leads to a series of adventures involving a stolen dress, her former student teacher, and new clues in the disappearance of her best friend.

Does it pass the “Homeschool Mom Test“? For the most part, I’d say yes. I think there’s only one swear word. However, the story is rather dark (as many YA books nowadays tend to be), so if you’re handing this book to a young teen, you’d probably want to read it first before doing so.

Like Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, this book has some wonderful use of language and description. For example, Claire tells her student teacher, “I had survived a year of crashing into small pieces, after what happened to my mother. And I woke up re-formed, but you could still see the pieces. I pictured myself like that, like rock candy.” The voice and pacing nicely capture the rather fragmented existence of the narrator.

One thing I did not like about the book was that there were times I wanted to scream at the characters, “Really? That’s the decision you’re making now? That’s the smartest thing you can think to do?”  As a repeat twelfth grader and a student teacher, these two main characters make dumb choices.

Also, as a teacher, I was creeped out by the relationship between Claire and her student teacher. I student taught in a high school (juniors and seniors, too), and there is no way no how I would have acted as this student teacher did. Even the whole idea of the student teacher sitting in a desk at the front of the room, facing the students, while the “real” teacher teaches, is not the way it happens. That is not student teaching. That is not even clinical experience, when a college student observes from the back of the room and maybe helps grade tests.

I think girls who enjoy darker stories might really like this book, but it’s not my favorite of the nominees thus far.

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