Seeing Emily by Joyce Lee Wong 2005
IQ "Perhaps the more familiar someone is to you the harder it is to separate her from the person she is to you, and the harder it is to see her as a person in her own right." pg. 204 ("Sleepover")
A free-verse novel that tells the story of sixteen-year old Emily, one of three Asian students at her Richmond, Virginia high school. Emily loves her parents (as their only child they are fiercely protective and doting) and has always obeyed them until she meets Nick, a junior transfer student who seems to have an interest in her. She's not allowed to wear make up or date, but she's actually considering going against her parents wishes. In addition she is growing more and more passionate about art and while her mother encourages it, she also offers advice, advice that Emily doesn't really want. Emily wants to make her own path, through her artwork and her relationships, she needs space from her family. But a trip to Taiwan might just change her perspective on everything and everyone.
The most unsatisfactory element of the book is Emily's relationship with Nick. I don't know if part of the problem was the fact that the novel was in free-verse and so I felt as though there was less dialogue but I wasn't buying their relationship. A transfer student, a year older than Emily, sees her suddenly in the hallway and decides to be extra friendly? Emily describes herself as plain (I no longer have the book so no exact quotes) and I think their relationship would have been more plausible for me if they started as friends. But no, they just started going out. I didn't understand where this story was going. this is my fault but I expected Taiwan to happen much sooner, instead it occurs towards the end and I didn't think those scenes were particularly well-developed. I didn't close this book thinking I had just glimpsed life in Taiwan in the 21st century. Not only was the relationship between Emily and Nick not described in much detail, her relationships with her family and friends were bare. I didn't understand the disconnect between her and her parents because they so rarely communicated. I would venture a guess as to that being why Emily has issues with her parents but to me her parents were never that unreasonable and when they did have a few strict rules, they never spoke them, it was just clear from their expressions (described by Emily). I would have liked more dialogue between all the characters. I was really through when *SPOILER: Highlight to read* WHY DID EMILY NOT TAKE NICK TO TASK for the geisha/exotic comments, etc? Yes he was ignorant but I felt some pity for him because Emily basically broke up with him for no reason. She should have explained why. You can't just ignore a person and hope they'll go away.* End of SPOILER
The free verse works superbly when it's just Emily narrating. Her voice is quiet but her use of metaphors, especially when describing her little epiphanies or her artwork are vivid and make her voice seem stronger. However I'm not sure I would finish this book thinking Emily became stronger. A tiny thing that I loved was how Emily's mom supported Emily's love of painting. From my personal MG/YA reading experience I've found that Asian mothers tend to not want their children to focus on the arts merely for enjoyment, they either push them incredibly hard or discourage them. Emily's mom strikes a nice balance, she loves to paint and she offers advice, but she was never overbearing. I wish I still had a copy of the book (or had thought to write the quote down) but there's a quote that goes something like 'Chinese mothers want their sons to become dragons and their daughters to become phoenixes.' LOVE
Seeing Emily's strength lies in the clear and expressive adjectives used to provide details about herself and her artwork. This novel fell flat for me when it came to the secondary characters because I felt as though they were ignored. The author didn't focus her wonderful way with words on the minor characters and Emily's relationships with them so I was left with a fuzzy view of them. I wish Emily's trip to Taiwan had been explored in more detail and had occurred sooner (and I was secretly hoping that China vs. Taiwan would be touched on but I don't hold that against the book). I was happy with one of the core issues between Nick and Emily. Happy isn't the right word, I was just pleased that the topic of how we view guys and girls from different cultures was addressed (except for the end-see spoiler). Read this book for the eloquent poetry, but there will not be much of a plot or significant character development.
Disclosure: From the library