Friday, 20 February 2009

What Would Emma Do? by Eileen Cook (Book Review)

The story is set in a small town: Wheaton, Indiana, where Emma Proctor attends a private Christian high school. In school, Emma and her classmates are expected to question everything with “What would Jesus do?” Emma thinks that sitting around to discuss WWJD is a waste of time.

Emma is hoping for a sports scholarship to attend a university away from Wheaton. She has only applied to one, Northwestern, hoping beyond hope that she will be accepted on her track scores. She doesn’t like the small town atmosphere where everyone gossips and knows each others’ personal business. If they don’t know what’s going on, stories are fabricated.

Emma has always been comfortable with Colin Stewart, her guy friend, the next door neighbour who grew up with her. She’s never worried about saying the wrong thing, as he always seems to know what to say at the right moment or understand her moods. From an early age it had been suggested that when they grew up they would get married. But Emma’s plans had always been to leave Wheaton, and she had no reservations about Colin dating her best friend, Joann.

But before Emma can leave Wheaton, there is the Christmas kiss with Colin to clear up. The kiss Joann’s mother was witness to. Emma questions Joann’s ‘forgiveness’, knowing Joann would be uncomfortable about Colin hanging out with her. But the real question is why Colin kissed her. It is this question that haunts Emma enough to impulsively ask Colin to take her to a party at “The Barn” located in the countryside.

It is at the Barn where Colin and Emma witness a situation that carries consequences, and those engaged in it were unaware they were present.

When Colin takes Emma home this excerpt from the book sums up the kiss at Christmas where Colin tells Emma it wasn’t a mistake and that he thinks he really likes her:

“I don’t know. I’m not trying to piss you off, but I feel that I have to say something. I’ve liked you for as long as I can remember. I liked you since before I fully understood what it meant, but you were always so clear about wanting to be friends, just friends, that I never said a thing. Heck, I half convinced myself that I didn’t care. That I was fine with that. Besides, even if you liked me, I knew the relationship wouldn’t go anywhere. You’ve talked about leaving since you understood there was a road out of town. But I think I never stopped liking you. I felt like you should know. Then I kissed you, and you kissed me back.” Colin looked over at me. “You did kiss me back.”

When classmates begin passing out at school Emma knows why and who is behind it, and wants to report it. Colin reminds her that being at a party where there was alcohol would get her kicked off the track team, and there goes her scholarship. Also, Joann would find out they had been together.

Emma fears the worst when the town begins a witch hunt to find out who is ‘poisoning’ the high school students. A mob mentality develops when they begin to target students who are considered “loners”. Soon it becomes a “crime” to be different and Emma sees the hypocrisy in the town residents. How long will Emma let this go on? How many innocent people have to get hurt before she steps up and does the right thing?

This book covers the full range of emotions, because those teenage years have many situations packed into them – body changes, boys/girls, dating, social norms, grades, and growing up. When parents or older adults tell teenagers those years are the best of their lives, I think they have really forgotten how anxiety ridden they were. Not everyone has a smooth growth period during the teenage years. For some it was a horror they would prefer to forget.

Emma’s comments and thoughts are hilarious while she tests the waters around her. It’s a normal, healthy attitude toward the challenges of life. She’s smart, insecure, and a non-conformist; but is focused on her goal to leave Wheaton. Emma finds it scary in her search to find integrity in her life with others, while learning it is more important than many other things.

Each chapter starts with a journal entry where Emma talks to God over difficult choices and her faith. These journal entries were very amusing, thought provoking and entertaining. Emma learns a fundamental lesson about asking God for help and receives an answer in a dream.

Eileen Cook has created characters that are believable, and she has teenage angst down pat. What Would Emma Do? is a book that had me laughing out loud. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read…regardless of one's age.

Format: Paperback, 307 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse, Simon & Schuster
To visit Eileen Cook’s website:

Anyone commenting on this review will be entered in a draw on March 7, 2009 to receive a copy of “What Would Emma Do?” Raph Neckmann of Raph's Ramblings won the book


Teresa said...

Thanks for the great review, Barbara. It sounds like a thought-provoking book.

Anonymous said...

Anxiety-ridden teenage years. Was only thinking about that yesterday, and remembering the series "Dawson's Creek", the t.v. series that featured both Heath Ledger's partner and Katie Holmes.I wonder if I would enjoy the book you've mentioned.My last foray into teen fiction was Twilight. Quite suprised myself by enjoying both the film and book. That too seem to be read by many, regardless of age. Thank you for the interesting post Barbara.

Barbara Martin said...

Teresa, there were many other things I could have said about this great book, but I was concerned they would turn into spoilers.

Pam, I'm certain there are laughs specifically written for adults. I mention this because of other reviews I read on this book where certain concepts were missed completely. This book has complex layers within and sorting them out is half the fun.

Reader Wil said...

I wish I had more time to read! May be this summer as I shan't go on a holiday this year! Thanks for the review.

Donnetta said...

Barbara: Nicely written review. I'd like to read this one. I'm so wanting to "figure out" how to write books for kids when I retire. This one sounds like a great place to study and enjoy. (Even if it's about "older kids.")Good job! D

Barbara Martin said...

Wil, many of the "young adult" books are very well written with engaging stories.

Donnetta, thank you. This book covers all the aspects of the teenage years. There are the prima donnas, the wall-flowers, the loners, the crowd of 'popular' students and the outsiders all trying to fit in. Whatever was at issue during your teenage years will be similar to those here--they were with mine some forty years ago.

EG CameraGirl said...

Very well written review. The book reminds me a bit of my teenage years - not the crime but the small-town and Christian-school atmosphere.

As an aside, I wonder if there really is a Christian high school in Wheaton. I know there was, and probably still is, a Christian college there.

BernardL said...

Humor is a key ingredient for me. Good review!

പാവത്താൻ said...

A review that provides an insight into the book. Tells us what to expect without spoiling the enjoyment of reading. wud like to read it.

Barbara Martin said...

EG, the Wheaton in the story is a made up place in Indiana some distance from Fort Wayne. Perhaps you are thinking of Wheaton, Illinois.

Bernard, this book is loaded with humour.

Siva, this is how I prefer to write reviews, allowing a potential reader to make up their own mind. Being a writer I would like a reviewer to provide a fair report on the genre of my books.

What Would Emma Do? is a coming of age story that covers the trials and tribulations.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Sounds a really interesting book, Barbara. You've written the review in such a way that I would like to read it, even though it's not a genre I would normally read.

David Cranmer said...

Great review Barbara. Thanks.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Nice review, Barbara. You did the author a great service taking her book so seriously.

Maria said...

I also liked to read this review and I think it is a very interesting book I would like to read in full.
I know the small town theme from my own experience and was happy to leave for a big city at 18.

Barbara Martin said...

Raph, I have picked up literary books based on a review that made more of an in-depth study of the motivation behind the characters. Literary books are not often on my shelves, but can be fun to read when the right one comes along.

David, glad you liked it.

Patti, I hadn't thought I had taken it seriously, but it did evoke memories of my own high school days.

Maria, the opposite could be said of me. I was born in a city and to this day I prefer the country.

debra said...

As the mother of daughters---late teen and early 20's---I can relate to the issues of these years. I can remember my own growing up years---I wouldn't want to go back!
Very nice review, Barbara. I'll have to read the book!