Tuesday 19 January 2021

Invisible Emmie


Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson (HarperCollins) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN: 9780062484932                                                                                                                       Positively Izzy by Terri Libenson (HarperCollins) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN: 9780062484963                                                                                                                    Just Jaime by Terri Libenson (HarperCollins) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN: 9780062851062      Becoming Brianna by Terri Libenson (HarperCollins) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN: 9780062894533

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

Emmie is a wallflower with an artistic streak, forced to confront her worst fears when she is humiliated in front of the whole school. Izzy is a daydreamer whose passion for performance is undervalued and seen as disruptive. Jaime is a gossip forced to re-evaluate her behaviour when she finds herself frozen out of her friendship group. And Brianna is the ‘smart girl’: what will happen when she is required to turn her right-brained intellect to atypical pursuits?

 Emmie & Friends is a series of four graphic novels about a loosely connected group of middle school girls and their respective challenges. Each story contrasts the perspectives of either two different characters or two different timelines using different illustration styles. These are everyday narratives, with low-key humour and an on-point voice keeping the pages turning. Most of the books feature a genuinely surprising twist in the final pages, delivering a punch line to remember.

Themes of anxiety, bullying and betrayal are present but not overworked. The characters are culturally and ethnically diverse, but primarily female (although there are several empathetic, supportive boys who play important roles). A side effect of the dialogue-heavy genre which Libenson leans into with great effect, is that the reader is abruptly dropped into the middle of ongoing conversations between characters. It can feel a bit disorienting at first - I backtracked a few times to check I hadn’t missed pages - but it adds considerably to the narrative tension.

While each book is enjoyable, they come into their own read-together as a series. As each story focuses on different members of a friendship group, and their stories interweave over the course of the series, allowing readers to form a more complex view of the interpersonal dynamics.

Emmie and her friends will soon feel like friends to readers in mid-to-upper primary school. Being graphic novels, these books will be of value for reluctant or less-confident readers, but even stronger readers will get a lot out of the well-structured series.

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