Tammy Donahue



Emma grows up in rural West Virginia during the late Sixties and early Seventies. She is naive and unaware of the cultural divide that exists in her community. She is a sensitive young girl and a deep thinker, however, and begins to observe subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences in how others are treated. She is filled with compassion for the people that live in her community. As Emma realizes the diversity and uniqueness of her classmates and the inequalities that exist in her town, she begins to examine her own actions, inactions and values. While navigating the challenges of adolescence, she finds herself in situations where her values are tested. Emma questions the decisions she makes and begins to doubt her ability to make the right choices. As Emma grows older, she is tormented by bullies, her confidence is knocked, and she is consumed by self-doubt. Weighed down by the unrealistic expectations she has set for herself, Emma begins to understand that no one is perfect, nor should they expect to be. As friends come and go, Emma learns that there is one person in her life that she can always rely on and that perhaps she has made the right decisions after all.

In “Emma,” I hope to teach young teens to be empathetic and to help create for them a deeper understanding of inequality. It is my hope to help young teens navigate this complex and sometimes difficult part of their life with more confidence and with reassurance that they are not alone in their struggles.


Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers’ Favorite

Take a step back in time to the late 1960s. Life for young people in this era was simple, unassuming, and very different than it is for young people today. Without all the techno-gadgets of the twenty-first century, and without even a TV for many young people, entertainment had to be created by the individual. For a small-town girl, there was a lot to learn while orchestrating one’s journey through a quagmire of cultural differences that often existed in this era. Emma grew up in rural West Virginia. She was a sensitive young girl who couldn’t understand why differences divided people in her small community. Like the boy who was refused entrance to the skating hall, people were categorized, bullied, stigmatized. As Emma grows through adolescence, she experiences the brunt of bullying and is riddled with self-doubt and insecurities as she battles with daily decision-making. Growing up certainly isn’t easy, no matter what era, no matter whether it’s a small town or a big city, and Emma certainly has more than her share of challenges to address.

Tammy Donahue’s novel, Emma, is a poignant look at the late 1960s/early 1970s. Set in a small mining town in rural West Virginia, there are numerous incidents of cultural division, stigmatization, and bullying. It’s a tough path for any young person to navigate and the author leads the main character, Emma, through a troubling adolescence that will have her down-trodden and full of self-recrimination as she tries to make sense of her life, her decision-making skills, and the complex world she lives in. It’s a simple story and a coming-of-age plot with lots of care and attention to detail of what life was like in this era. The descriptive narratives are compelling and the dialogue well presented to help carry the story along. I found this to be a deeply moving story, one that spoke strongly of my own growing up in the same era.

Reviewed by Victoria, 7th Grade

Emma was overall a good book. I liked that there were many different characters and how much detail was added to each page. Not only did it state Emma’s thought processes, but also what all the other characters were doing. Everything was explained by what others said or what Emma had done in the past. You could tell a lot of thought was in this book.

The things that Emma thought through and went through were so very important because they taught her not everyone is perfect. Nobody is. It shows exactly how much people change and how that can benefit. When you see how much one person goes through, it really changes your point of view. It makes you realize why people act and say what they do.

I wouldn’t change a thing about the book. It shows nobody has a perfect life and that even if your social life and attitude in public is OK, something is happening or most likely happening behind closed doors. I think this book has taught me a lot.

Reviewed by Rowyn, 7th Grade

I think that Emma is quite a good book. It is a perfect book for young audiences so that they
understand what the real world is like. The book is a good way to lean into understanding how
it feels to grow up. I think it is great that it digs into every corner of reality including racism,
misogyny, social hierarchy, and abusive relationships. I loved reading this book and would love
to read it once more!

Purchase Options