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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
Take a step back in time to the late 1960s. Life for young people in this era was simple, unassuming, and very different than it is for young people today. Without all the techno-gadgets of the twenty-first century, and without even a TV for many young people, entertainment had to be created by the individual. For a small-town girl, there was a lot to learn while orchestrating one’s journey through a quagmire of cultural differences that often existed in this era. Emma grew up in rural West Virginia. She was a sensitive young girl who couldn’t understand why differences divided people in her small community. Like the boy who was refused entrance to the skating hall, people were categorized, bullied, stigmatized. As Emma grows through adolescence, she experiences the brunt of bullying and is riddled with self-doubt and insecurities as she battles with daily decision-making. Growing up certainly isn’t easy, no matter what era, no matter whether it’s a small town or a big city, and Emma certainly has more than her share of challenges to address.
Tammy Donahue’s novel, Emma, is a poignant look at the late 1960s/early 1970s. Set in a small mining town in rural West Virginia, there are numerous incidents of cultural division, stigmatization, and bullying. It’s a tough path for any young person to navigate and the author leads the main character, Emma, through a troubling adolescence that will have her down-trodden and full of self-recrimination as she tries to make sense of her life, her decision-making skills, and the complex world she lives in. It’s a simple story and a coming-of-age plot with lots of care and attention to detail of what life was like in this era. The descriptive narratives are compelling and the dialogue well presented to help carry the story along. I found this to be a deeply moving story, one that spoke strongly of my own growing up in the same era.