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by Lauren Tarshis
Dial, 2007
Review by Christian Perring on May 13th 2008

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree

Emma-Jean Lazarus is in the seventh grade.  When one of her classmates tells her she is strange, she and her mother look up the word in the dictionary, and agree that she is exceptional.  However, that's not really what the classmate meant.  Emma-Jean is thoughtful, smart, and not inclined to indulge in youthful silliness.  She takes the world very seriously, and thinks through life very methodically.  That's because she is like her father, who was a mathematics professor.  But her father died a couple of years ago in a car accident.  So now she lives with her mother, who is also a little odd. 

It's possible that Emma-Jean is on the autistic spectrum; she doesn't fit in with other children and she sounds like Dr Spock from Star Trek when she talks about her life.  But it's also possible that she's just a more mature and sensible girl than most 13 year olds.  As we follow her through her mild adventures involving other girls and one boy, she starts to get a better understanding of how other people think, and she also deals with her own grief for her father. 

The best aspect of the book is that although Emma-Jean doesn't have much sense of humor, her logical way of looking at the world shows it in a different light, and is often really funny.  She is also open minded, compassionate to others, and eager to get lots of information, so she gives some people time who others will just dismiss.  Her hero, as was her father's, is Henri Poincare.  She spends lots of time with the lodger living in their house, who is from India, and she talks often with the school caretaker.  Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree is a charming book for young people that will help them be more tolerant to each other's differences. 

© 2008 Christian Perring

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.