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Brand New Emily

By: Ginger Rue
Reviewed by: Peter Huggins
Tricycle Press, 2009
$15.99, Hardcover

It’s a wonder any of us survives middle school, much less high school. Survival is definitely on the mind of Emily Wood, the fourteen-year-old narrator of Ginger Rue’s fun debut novel Brand New Emily. Poetry geek Emily attends Wright Middle School in Ohio and becomes the prime target of the Daisies, led by uber-bully Heatherly, a Nurse Ratched in training. Through intelligence and courage, Emily comes up with a plan to defeat Heatherly and the so-cool Daisies.

Emily hires teen heartthrob and movie star Colby Summers’s on site publicist, Brynn Sterling, of the powerful Noreen J. Wolfe New York PR firm, obtaining the money by pawning her recently dead mother’s heirloom bracelet but primarily by discovering that Colby Summers is actually twenty-eight, happily married, and a dad. Brynn wastes no time in creating Brand Em: new haircut, makeup, clothes, posture, body language, and even the Zen of Gomer; Em, unlike Heatherly and company, will be nice.

Or will she?

Brynn warns Emily that they are creating “a product, not a real person. Play your part, but don’t lose sight of who you really are.” But Emily likes Brand Em, and everyone, Heatherly aside, likes Brand Em, particularly high-schooler Ryan. But then Ryan thinks Colby and Em are an item, and Em is afraid she’ll lose Ryan, not to mention herself, as even Heatherly’s “friends” turn on Heatherly at Em’s instigation. What a delicious mess! Yet Emily manages to sort through her difficulties with a little help from her friends, including Robert Frost, courtesy of “The Road Not Taken.” As she tells Ryan, “From now on, call me Emily.”

While I would have liked a stronger sense of place in this novel and while Emily and her peers seem older in many ways than their ages would indicate, Emily is a thoroughly engaging character in a novel full of such characters. In addition, I very much like the way Rue uses PR speak for the section headings and in the novel itself to show Emily’s bewilderment, development, and change. In a world that too often privileges style over substance, Brand New Emily is big on style and substance. Oct 2009

Peter Huggins is the author of three books of poems, Necessary Acts, Blue Angels, and Hard Facts; a picture book, Trosclair and the Alligator; and a novel for younger readers, In the Company of Owls.

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