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Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree

Review

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree

Emma-Jean Lazarus is a gifted and unself-conscious 12-year-old who sits by herself at lunchtime and relies on logic and reason to help her survive seventh grade. At school, she considers the janitor and language arts teacher her friends. Others include her mother, Elizabeth; Henri, her father's 17-year-old parakeet; and Vikram Adwani, a student at the local university who has rented the third floor of Emma-Jean's house. 

Emma-Jean's heroes are her father Eugene, a college mathematics professor who died two years earlier, and legendary French mathematician Jules Henri Poincare, who was also her father's hero. Emma-Jean's approach to life mirrors that of Poincare, who believed that "even the most complex problems could be solved through a process of creative thinking."  

Emma-Jean is comfortable being different but feels there is an "invisible door" that separates her from fellow students like Colleen Pomerantz and Will Keeler. 

Colleen Pomerantz is one of the nicest seventh-graders at William Gladstone Middle School, but she's a worrier who cares deeply about what her classmates think. One day, Emma-Jean discovers Colleen in the bathroom crying. Colleen tells Emma-Jean she's upset because her best friend, Kaitlin Vogel, has invited Laura Gilroy to the Vogel family's annual ski weekend in Vermont instead of her. Laura is bossy and loud and takes pleasure in manipulating other students to get what she wants. After seeing how upset Colleen is, and knowing how Laura behaves as the seventh grade's "female alpha chimp," Emma-Jean uses her logic and intelligence to help Colleen.

Will Keeler is a middle-of-the road student, a star of the seventh-grade basketball team and the object of Laura's affection. One day Will comes to Emma-Jean's rescue when Brandon Mahoney, a bully who "does not practice good dental hygiene," tries to humiliate her during lunchtime. Later, when Will is falsely accused by one of the teachers of stealing candy, Emma is determined to clear Will's name. 

By getting involved in the lives of her fellow students, Emma-Jean has stepped through that invisible door. Her actions to solve Will's problem prove successful, but her activities on Colleen's behalf create a new and even worse situation. Colleen gets to go to Vermont with Kaitlin, but Laura is embarrassed and vows revenge. After Colleen discovers what Emma-Jean has done, she is disappointed and angry, and refuses to talk to Emma-Jean. Emma-Jean comes to Colleen's house to apologize, but Colleen stays in her bedroom. When Emma-Jean climbs a magnolia tree outside Colleen's bedroom window to reason with her, Emma-Jean slips and tumbles to the ground. 

While recovering from her accident, Emma-Jean wishes she could go back to the way things used to be --- before she interfered in her classmates' lives and before her father died. But she knows that isn't possible. While comforting Emma-Jean, her mother reads that quote from Poincare; eventually, Emma-Jean comes to understand why this was so special to her father. Poincare's words, "It is by logic that we prove, but it is in our hearts that we discover life's possibilities," help Emma-Jean realize that there is more to life than logic and that she's not so different from her classmates after all.

EMMA-JEAN LAZARUS FELL OUT OF A TREE is a delightful and insightful book about being different, dealing with bullies and overcoming grief. The voices of Emma-Jean, Colleen and Will are fresh and engaging. I hope that Lauren Tarshis will write more stories about these likable characters and their middle-school adventures.

Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on May 15, 2008

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree
by Lauren Tarshis

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2007
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Dial
  • ISBN-10: 0803731647
  • ISBN-13: 9780803731646