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The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things focuses on high school senior Claire, who has suffered two painful losses: her mother's suicide and the disappearance of her best friend, Richy. This novel describes very intense emotional pain; the main character is at times barely able to function under the stress caused by grief and survivor's guilt. There are a couple of violent events: a punch in the nose, and a broken-down door. More distressing, however, is the information that's slowly revealed about Claire's mother's death and Richy's disappearance. Without blaming the victim, the novel sends a serious cautionary message about the dangers of teens engaging with strangers.
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What's the story?
In EMILY'S DRESS AND OTHER MISSING THINGS, the protagonist, Claire, starts her senior year over at a new high school in the college town of Amherst, Mass. Claire and her dad have relocated, at least in part because they need to move past the painful events that occurred in their hometown of Providence, R.I.: the suicide death of Claire's mother, and the disappearance of her best friend, Richy. Claire's new English class is studying local poet Emily Dickinson and pays a visit to the museum installed in Dickinson's former home. Claire begins to make connections between Dickinson's poetry and her own feelings about death, and her mom. Her writings for class attract the attention and concern of a student teacher, Sam Tate, who encourages Claire to open up about her feelings and helps her find resolution.
Is it any good?
This intensely emotional novel can be difficult to read at times; Claire struggles so much with her grief, retreating into herself, and often viewing the world through a very distorted lens. It's hard to watch her repeatedly run away, sputter, and try to tune out when things hurt too much. But by the same token, the book deals with extremely disturbing events, and Claire's reaction -- her suffering, her guilt -- seems quite realistic. Without being preachy, the book also sends a clear message about the importance of sharing feelings with trustworthy friends, and the dangers of teens entering into relationships with untrustworthy adults. The mystery element of the novel is brief and quickly resolved, but what's there is suspenseful and engaging. This is a meaningful book for teens who can handle serious emotional content.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the connection Claire makes between Emily Dickinson and her mother. Why do you think Claire feels close to her mom at Emily's house?
You have probably seen stories in the media about missing children. What message does this book send about teen safety?
Late in the book, Claire says she knows "how to ask for help." Who would you reach out to if something sad happened to you?
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