Seventeen-year-old Emily’s world crumbles when her boy friend dumps her, and when she thinks her life can’t possibly get any worse, a series of secrets are revealed that threaten to tear her beloved family apart. Emily’s heart has been broken into a hundred pieces and she feels like there is no one to turn to, until an unexpected friendship blossoms with a troubled classmate named Leo. Sometimes moody but always supportive, Leo is Emily’s rock in an ocean of confusion and disbelief.
But Leo doesn’t have an easy life either. He struggles to be both mother and father to his little sister while his mom battles her alcohol addiction. His deadbeat dad darts in and out of the picture, and Leo would rather he stay away, permanently. The two friends lean on each other, and in the end discover the inner strength to face whatever life throws at them.
Gunnery hits a lot of topics in this short book. In 196 pages she deals with a break up, the loss of a friend, anger issues, alcoholism, cheating, adoption, even gay marriage flits into the story at one point, and although these are all good topics to be discussing I felt like few of them got the page time they needed to really be dealt with properly. That being said I really loved what she had to say about some of it, and there were some truly touching moments between Emily and her family, I guess I just wish she'd taken the time to delve into it more.
In the same vein, covering a lot of ground in a short amount of writing, I found the dialogue between Leo and Emily was often awkward. In an effort to be concise, it felt like a lot of the development between them was lost and so moments which might have been meaningful came across a bit stilted.
"That's you out there, Leo," I say
"What're you talking about?"
"When you get mad. All those waves crashing in, over and over and over, exploding on those rocks."
For a second he doesn't say anything. Then he picks up a small rock and puts it roughly in my hand. "That's what getting mad feels like. Not waves crashing or exploding. It's a rock right here in your guts."And because their conversations never seem to go deeper, or last all that much longer, it became a mystery to me why they were depending on each other as good friends. Because it didn't really seem as if they were.
I feel like if Emily for Real had either a smaller focus or longer manuscript it would have been a really strong story. Elements of Gunnery's writing are very similar to Sarah Dessen, who's a wonderful YA contemporary author, and they bring a great voice to her story telling. But as the book stands it felt like it was missing depth the subject matter really deserved.
Hopefully Sylvia Gunnery gets more meaty for her next novel, because I would really like to see what she can do with 100 more pages.
Emily for Real, by Sylvia Gunnery
Published by Pajama Press, April 15th 2012
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy Emily for Real on Amazon.ca