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Me & Emma    by Elizabeth Flock order for
Me & Emma
by Elizabeth Flock
Order:  USA  Can
Mira, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

Writing in a child's voice is not always successful, but Elizabeth Flock makes it seem easy in Me & Emma. Narrated by eight-year old Carrie, the book portrays a broken Southern family on the brink of despair. Carrie and her six-year-old sister Emma have seen their share of sorrow in their short lives. The girls' beloved father, whom Emma barely remembers, was killed in front of her eyes. Their mother suffered paralyzing depression following the death of her husband, leaving Carrie and Emma to fend for themselves.

Desperation drives the mother to eventually marry Richard, who becomes the girls' stepfather. Soon, Richard's true colors show through, and he tortures the whole family with his unpredictable moods, his drinking, and inability to provide financially. Carrie is protective of her little sister, who is victimized by Richard and ignored by their mother. Carrie is also an outcast at school, and her teachers are concerned when she shows up with bruises. Throughout the novel, Carrie's current harsh reality is contrasted with fond memories of life with her father, memories which are tainted later in the book when she learns a shattering secret about her father's life and death.

This is a story of desperation, borne out of poverty and seemingly hopeless circumstances, and of shattered innocence, as Carrie is caught between childhood and the need to grow up quickly. Wilson, the next door neighbor, is somewhat of a Southern backwoods stereotype, but he does deliver amusing lines, such as when he is trying to teach Carrie to shoot: 'Seems to me sumpen's wrong wit' you kids today when shooting at a tin can is sumpen you ain't been doing since birth.'

While the plot may seem familiar, almost cliché (a poverty-stricken Southern family, a cruel stepfather, a mother who turns a blind eye), this is a book with a twist: although there is some foreshadowing of tragic consequences, the author leads the reader down an unexpected path towards a shocking conclusion, which will leave the reader reeling. Me & Emma is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. The writing is authentic and the characterizations honest. This is a novel which, while I was reading it, constantly reminded me why I love to read.

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