The Letting Go

320p. Sky Pony. Jul. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781510734050.
Gr 8 Up—Emily attends a boarding school run by a free-spirited woman who raised four artsy daughters in their coastal California home; she allowed each one to pursue her learning and talent independently and creatively, resulting in all becoming famous and wealthy. Now the students who populate that house devote themselves to artistic endeavors; and while Emily seeks her own voice as a poet, her study is the life and work of Emily Dickinson. Her fascination for the reclusive mid-19th-century poet relates to her own forced seclusion, hiding from a world repelled and fascinated by the bizarre deaths of her family and friends. This violent end for anyone close to her seems a curse that started with her mother when Emily was four. To defend herself, she lobs insults at anyone who dares smile or offer company, refusing affection, until another Emily joins the school. The girl who goes by M irrepressibly breaches the walls Emily has built around herself. A man is found shot in the back of the head on school grounds, giving M a chance to reach out to Emily, who can't understand how she has caused the stranger's death, but fears herself the culprit somehow. This slow trickle of a novel is told in first-person thoughts and information from Emily's notebooks, many entries with quotations from Dickinson and tidbits about the poet's life.
VERDICT This intended mystery focuses too little on whodunit, limiting its appeal to only patient, scholarly readers.

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