A Voice of Her Own: Becoming Emily Dickinson

Book review by
Debra Bogart, Common Sense Media
A Voice of Her Own: Becoming Emily Dickinson Book Poster Image
Lovely first-person narration helps bring Dickinson to life.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Very educational about 19th-century life and society; and the mind of young poet who went on to become a foremost American poet.

Positive Messages

Emily endeavored to find and keep a voice of her own; she courageously lived with a weak constitution and panic attacks that severely impacted and narrowed her life at a time they were not understood. Strong family relationships and close friendships are positively portrayed.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Emily lives a privileged life in the mid-19th century, but begins to chafe at the expectations women encountered in society, both pious and cultural. She struggles with panic attacks, but vows to keep her own identity, works at her education, her poetry, and remains fairly optimistic through it all.


Emily describes the onset of menstruation at age 14 and her shock. With her close circle of friends, romantic crushes are discussed and curiousity about seeing a boy naked, and the physical act of intercourse. Later in life, Emily falls in love for the first time with a minister who is already married.


Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that although there is brief discussion between teenaged Emily and her friends about young men and what married life will be like, including intercourse, it is couched in normal and teen-appropriate language that may send today's teens into gales of laughter. Emily has vague romantic crushes, until at the age of 24 she hears a young minister preach and falls in love with him immediately, only to discover he is already married. Author notes explain that she did not meet him for years but they became close friends; and she notes that Emily also fell in love with other married men.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byagrant1210 February 12, 2016
Kid, 12 years old June 2, 2010

A Great book!

I read this book for school, and I really liked it!

What's the story?

From the age of 9 through 24, Emily Dickinson's life is told as imagined by author Barbara Dane. In a close-knit family that contained a domineering, depressive father and a compliant mother, Emily tells of learning to bake, to embroider, her love of siblings, nature, and close friends. During puberty she begins to realize the restricted roles placed on women by society and strives to find a way to keep "her own voice," and turns more and more to writing poems to express her feelings, large and small. She lives a privileged life that is not without illness and as a young woman begins experiencing panic attacks, which plagued her the rest of her life. She decided against becoming a born-again Christian, even as she watched her friends embrace religion; she also watches them narrow their interests to men and marriage, and perhaps it is her conviction to remain her own person that keeps her from falling in love with any available men before this biography ends.

Is it any good?

Dane has done a wonderful job of inhabiting Dickinson's life. She portrays her as an intelligent and loving young woman who did not see herself as anything special, but nonetheless faced obstacles such as panic attacks with determination and an unfailing appreciation of the beauty of the world around her. Readers who enjoy Jane Austen novels or historical fiction will also enjoy A VOICE OF HER OWN; readers who already love Dickinson's poetry will find her world opening up with this book.

Dane magically sprinkles some phrases used by Dickinson throughout the book, while creating new poems as Emily might have that create the same universal appeal. Author's notes include phrases from Dickinson's writing that the author included; basic facts about Dickinson, notes about the author's research, and a bibliography for further reading.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the opening issue of the story: why was Emily so alarmed at moving from her current house at age 24 back to her childhood home? Do adult children still live as long with their parents today? Why or why not?

  • This is a fictionalized story of how Emily's life may have been, based on extensive research. Would Emily herself mind having another write about her in this way? Why did the author make her own poems for Emily, instead of inserting Emily's own poetry?

  • Emily felt constrained by the expectations of a woman in her lifetime. Do you think other young women felt that way at the time? What did Emily do about it?

  • Did this story make you want to read some of Emily Dickinson's poetry? Have you ever written your own poems?

  • Nature and animals were very, very important to Emily. Why do you think she felt so close to nature?

Book details

  • Author: Barbara Dana
  • Genre: Biography
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • Publication date: March 1, 2009
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
  • Number of pages: 16
  • Last updated: July 13, 2017

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