Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things Book Poster Image

Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things

Emotional teen novel explores intense loss and grief.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The "Emily" in the book title is New England poet Emily Dickinson. Readers of Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things will learn about Dickinson's poetry, some of which is quoted in the novel, and about the museum that now exists in her former home, where the main character, Claire, sees Emily's dress. This book also sends a cautionary message to teens about entering into relationships with strangers, and imparts information about high school life in the New England towns of Amherst, Mass., and Providence, R.I., and university life in Amherst.


Positive messages

Toward the end of the novel, Claire says that she "knows how to ask for help" now. The book illustrates how important it is to reach out to friends in times of crisis.

Positive role models

Claire's father is loving, supportive, patient and concerned; he tries to give his daughter space, but sets limits when he feels her behavior might be self-destructive. Her student teacher, Tate, engages her intellectually and proves to be a trustworthy friend.


Violent acts (suicide, a possible accidental death) are recalled by the characters in Emily's Dress and Other Missing Things, but only a couple are described graphically: Claire punches someone in the nose, causing the person to bleed profusely. A man breaks down a door in anger.


Claire has an affectionate relationship with a young man; he occasionally holds her hand or puts his arm around her waist, but there's no sexual contact.

Not applicable

Two misfit characters eat Goldfish crackers and drink Orangina. A dad wishes his goth daughter would buy clothes at J. Crew.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Kathryn Burak
Topics:Friendship, High school, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:October 2, 2012
Number of pages:240
Publisher's recommended age(s):13 - 18
Available on:Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Parent of a 13 year old Written bythreelambs March 15, 2013

"Emo" girl connects with Emily Dickinson

I think this would be particularly interesting for any teens who are familiar with Emily Dickinson's works or the town of Amherst and the Dickinson museum. This was a fun backdrop for the story of a modern day girl dealing with loss. The story tackles her mother's suicide, the disappearance of her best friend, and an innocent romance. Most of the tone is somber. The book has mature themes, but presented from the viewpoint of the main character, who is teetering between being a teen and an adult. The book touches on adult topics, but stays true to the interpretation of a mature teen aged girl. Historic references weave nicely into the modern world.