To me, one of the most important factors in children's literature is the relatable factor. In Harry Potter, for example, Harry is an average kid with an average intelligence who is forced to succeed in a chaotic and frightening world. In Tunnels, Will Burrows is the misunderstood loner who has a passion for a strange hobby (archeology) and a family he is embarrassed to be around. If I were a tweenager/teenager, I would find these two boys completely relatable despite the fact that they are both boys who lived in England while I was a girl living in central Alberta.
In Emily Strange: The Lost Days, a new female character joins the ranks of Harry Potter and Will Burrows in providing a relatable figure for younger children. Here, a young girl with amnesia awakens in a strange town only to realize that she has amnesia. In diary form (complete with illustrations and doodles!), we follow Emily’s adventures as she discovers who she is, why she is in the town, why she has amnesia, and why so many black cats follow her around.
Unlike Harry Potter, Emily is relatable because she is so different. She is an unabashed and confident loner. Other people seem to irritate her and she often hides to get away from them. She genuinely loves black cats, spiders, and engineering. She refuses to wear anything other than a black dress and she constantly indulges in two of her favourite snacks: sandwiches and espresso.
For the shy young girls whose hobbies are not always deemed normal (perhaps she is a bug collector or a taxidermy aficionado), Emily the Strange is a novel that might help give them confidence. Indeed, it’s as if the novel is saying “see, there are other loners out there who prefer insects to humans and who think trendiness is boring”. As a young girl with uncommon hobbies (dressage) and a habit of avoiding crowds of people (that’s a personality trait I haven’t lost), I would have loved to read this book. A good dose of confidence, of course, is what every twelve year old needs, no matter who they are or how they act.
Unfortunately, Emily the Strange was not the novel I thought it should be. While Emily is strange, the diary style of her adventure is not. In fact, the whole thing smacks of a bad Bridget Jones knockoff which seems to subtly undercut the message that being different is good. I mean, how many bad adult Bridget Jones knockoffs are there? A bazillion? That’s what I thought. We hardly need another bad Bridget Jones novel for youngsters. Sheesh.
Granted, a twelve year old kid might not necessarily realize that the style of writing is at odds with the message of the book. The authors, however, do not have age as an excuse. They definitely sold out their loveable, quirky, offbeat character to the popularity of mainstream children’s literature. For shame!
That being said, Emily the Strange is a great book for younger kids (I would say twelve and under) who feel like they can’t relate to their peers. Unfortunately, there is not enough to this novel to make it truly interesting for adults. Unlike some of those juvenile novels that appeal to adults and children alike, Emily the Strange is specifically focused at younger girls. As an adult, this book was ok to read, but not appealing enough to make me seek out the sequel.