Destiny, Rewritten

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Destiny, Rewritten Book Poster Image
Utterly charming tale of Berkeley girl in search of father.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Growing up in an intellectually rich, socially conscious environment, Emily and her friends are curious, avid learners who frequent bookstores and, in one interlude, talk to each other in spontaneous haiku. Destiny, Rewritten presents enough of Emily Dickinson's poetry -- and the modern Emily character's wondering about why Dickinson wrote as she did -- to provide an excellent introduction to the famed poet.

Positive Messages

Family, friendship, and helping each other out are core values in Destiny, Rewritten. Problem-solving and critical thinking skills are valuable, as well as kindness, compassion, and creativity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All the adult characters have their oddities (Emily's mom is big on fate, while her aunt is still dealing with her husband's death with obsessive organization) but are loving and supportive of the kids. Emily and the other kids are ingenious, concerned with local issues, and loyal friends to one another. In one of the book's best moments, Emily's BFF Wavey decides to give up her perfect attendance record and cut school to help Emily, because, she says, she'd rather lose it helping a friend than because she had a cold one day.

 

Violence
Sex

Emily is the child of parents who went their separate ways before they knew she existed. Her much-mentioned fondness for the works of real-life romance novelist Danielle Steel mentions only their happy endings and not their steaminess.

Language
Consumerism

Hallmark cards, Cheerios, Goodwill, Danielle Steel novels.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the truly delightful Destiny, Rewritten, the saga of a tween girl growing up in Berkeley, CA (a town in which half the population, she points out, has advanced degrees), is spot-on in its treatment of local culture. Some aspects of the story may be unnerving to parents elsewhere, as 11-year-old protagonist Emily and her friends chat with homeless people and spend the night at a vain protest to save ancient oak trees set to be cut down for a campus building project. And Emily and her friends, who are excellent students at the fictional Berkeley Middle School, cut class to go on a search for a missing book. Also, Emily is a huge fan of romance novelist Danielle Steel, whose books are a good deal steamier than this story indicates and probably unsuitable for some younger readers who might take an interest. With these minor caveats, Destiny, Rewritten is problem-free, and its characters, plot, and setting utterly charming.

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What's the story?

Eleven-year-old Emily Elizabeth Davis has been told since birth that she's destined to be a great poet like her namesake, Emily Dickinson; a book of Dickinson's poetry has been a family treasure since before Emily was born. Emily, however, prefers romance novels, particularly the happy-ever-after endings. Whenever Emily asks her single mom, an English professor who also writes greeting-card verses, about her father, her mom evades the question, but finally admits she's written his name somewhere in the poetry book. Unfortunately, the book is mistakenly carried off by Goodwill just as Emily's about to learn the truth, so she and her friends, as well as her younger cousin Mortie, are soon searching all the used bookstores in Berkeley to get it back.

Is it any good?

DESTINY, REWRITTEN is notable for the fact that the kids are all smart and all the characters, including the wackier ones, are fundamentally kind. The novel is awash in the cultural assumption that the world is full of interesting things to learn about and it's great for kids to explore them. Emily's narrative voice is fresh and appealing, and her attempts to figure out adult reality will resonate with kids and adults alike. The affectionately accurate portrayal of Berkeley in all its poignant idiosyncrasy will warm the hearts of Bay Area readers and probably awaken a lot of kids elsewhere to alternative possibilities.

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why stories about kids searching for unknown parents are so popular. How does this story compare with others you might have read with a similar theme?

  • How does Berkeley compare with your hometown? How is Emily's life different from yours, and how is it the same?

  • How does the concept of fate influence people's lives? Do you believe your destiny is already determined, or do you think you control what happens in your life?

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