Summary - While juggling friendship issues (her best friend isn't speaking to her), a love triangle-turned-square (okay, maybe she shouldn't have kissed her best friend's boyfriend...but it was totally an accident!...sort of), and escalating mayhem in her small religious town (uh-oh...what would Jesus do?), Emma realizes she has to stop trying to please everyone around her and figure out what she wants for herself. It's time to start asking, "What would Emma do?"
Review - This title was everywhere when I decided to enter the blogosphere. Its cover was on every blog, reviewed nearly daily and yet I was so preoccupied with the start up of PSnark that I didn't really absorb the reviews. Thank goodness.
Though the title mimics the question of 'what would Jesus do?' and openly questions Christianity, I didn't feel it was disrespectful or had an ulterior motive. I was dense enough not to realise this would be a book with heavy emphasis on the exploration of religion but immediately picked up illusions to The Crucible. While I would imagine some readers of a more religious bent could take issue with the tone, I think it was incredibly funny, accurate and in touch with teens. If anything, Cook has expertly used a lighter tone to ask some really deep questions about organised religion, hypocrisy and peer pressure. In some ways it reminded me of an amazing indie film, Saved.
Emma is the driving force of this story. She's strong, willful, passionate and more important, questioning of her life and those around her. Emma's stuck in a town of pod people who feel the need to relive the lives of their parents. I could feel the frustration of this character strongly, wanted her to break free from the town's clutches and start afresh. This town was equally as frustrating as the town from Footloose and shared many rules but unfortunately no toe tapping Kevin Bacon. Her decision making leaves much to be desired but I always understood what motivated her actions. Cook allowed me to empathise, a skill many authors need to develop more with their protagonists.
That being said there were a few elements that annoyed me. In particular the running subplot that's results in a cliched decision by her mother. I don't want to give too many details but it ruined the sprint to the finish line for me. Most of the secondary characters possess interesting dimension but I really believe they could have been fleshed out more. Colin (the boyfriend in the summary), a character who's a catalyst to the events of this book is predominantly left hanging for the second half. He's a character who comes across as largely inconsistent. I did enjoy the fact that those who prefer to have a predictable lifestyle, one that Emma chooses to reject, are allowed to justify their life choices. That Emma's jaded perspective of the town isn't shared by everyone and that they have valid reasons of their own to stay. It provided a nice counterpoint to Emma's strong opinions and I never felt that Cook was judging them for wanting to settle.
What Would Emma Do was a vastly entertaining read which tread the tightrope of addressing alternative perspectives of Christianity in a light but questioning manner. More importantly it makes the reader question their stance whilst relating to many of the characters.
Format: Paperback, 307 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse
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Eileen Cook's Website