Me & Emma
For eight-year-old Carrie Parker, life is divided into before and after. Before her beloved father's death, her family lived a relatively happy life in the small town of Toast, North Carolina. Now she and her sister, Emma, endure daily verbal and physical abuse at the hands of their stepfather, Richard, and the emotional absence of their mother. "A big sister has to look out for a baby sister," says Carrie, and she does her best to protect herself and Emma from Richard's fists.
ME & EMMA is narrated by Carrie, who lays out the details of her life with a child's intuitiveness and touching simplicity. Central to the story is her relationship with Emma, the one constant in a hardscrabble existence. In many ways, Carrie and Emma are opposites. Carrie has a dark complexion and Emma is fair, "like someone got bored painting her and just left her blank for someone else to fill in." Carrie is older by two years, but it's often the fearless Emma who leads the way. Emma is more of a realist, while Carrie, whose most cherished possession is a book of stamps from around the world, dreams of far away places. In particular, Bermuda, where she believes it's "too pretty for anything to be wrong, and I bet they even have a law that would keep people like Richard out altogether."
As the story unfolds, Carrie devises ways to escape the reality of her home life, from an aborted runaway attempt that has dire consequences to hiding behind the living room couch. "Behind-the-couch," she says, "is like another room for me and Emma. It's our fort. Anyway, we usually head there when we've counted ten squeaks from the foot pedal of the metal trash can in the kitchen. The bottles clank so loud I think my head'll split in two."
The narrative alternates scenes from the past --- dominated by Carrie's memories of her father --- with events in the present, making the difference between the two all the more heartbreaking. Throughout, Elizabeth Flock's imagery and phrasing is pitch-perfect with lines such as this one: "I can barely remember Momma the way she used to be, before Richard broke her into pieces."
Flock's deceptively simple prose belies not only a seriousness in subject matter but also clever subtleties in the plot. Carrie relays information that she doesn't always understand, but to the reader these are important points to look out for in the story. They eventually shed light on devastating family secrets in both the past and the present.
ME & EMMA is not purely escapist reading. The injustices suffered by Carrie and Emma --- and their helplessness --- are stark reminders of the cruelty inflicted on children every day by the adults entrusted to care for them. And yet it's this same austerity that drives the narrative. Suffice it to say, you won't soon forget Carrie Parker and her little sister, Emma.
Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on March 1, 2006
Me & Emma
- Publication Date: March 1, 2006
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 296 pages
- Publisher: Mira
- ISBN-10: 0778322858
- ISBN-13: 9780778322856