Twelve-year-old Emma-Jean Lazarus isn't like the other seventh-graders at William Gladstone Middle School. She is brilliant and logical and curious about the world. She's also strange. Extremely strange, in the best sense of the word. The other seventh-graders don't understand Emma-Jean. But that's okay since Emma-Jean doesn't understand them either. Their behavior is so illogical. And thus their lives are extremely messy. Emma-Jean dislikes disorder of any kind, and has always considered it prudent to keep her distance from her peers, to observe from afar. Until one day when she walks into the girls' room at school and finds Colleen Pomerantz sobbing at the sink.
Colleen is nothing like Emma-Jean. She's one of those girls who cares about everything and everyone--sometimes it's too much! She's always wondering if someone is mad at her, or if she has egg salad stuck in her braces, or if her new sneakers make her look like a complete dork. Mainly Colleen wonders why people just can't ask nicer. And now Colleen is sure that the meanest girl in school is trying to steal her best friend.
What happens when these two girls meet? What happens when Emma-Jean tries to solve Colleen's problem using the awesome powers of logic she learned from her mathematician father and his hero, the legendary French logician Jules Henri Poincare?
Emma-Jean's life gets messy, that's for sure. Everything comes crashing down, including Emma-Jean herself. But maybe, in the end, it's all worth it.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Lauren Tarshis is the editor of Scholastic's Storyworks magazine, an award-winning language-arts magazine read by nearly 400,000 elementary school children. She lives in Connecticut with her family.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Emma-Jean Lazarus knew very well that a few of the seventh-grade girls at William Gladstone middle School were criers. They cried if they got a 67 of an algebra test or if they dropped their retainer into the trash in the cafeteria. They cried if their clay mug exploded in the kiln and when they couldn't finish the mile in gym. Two even cried in science, when Mr. Petrowski announced it was time to dissect a sheep's eyeball. Of course Emma-Jean had no intention of participating in such a barbaric and unhygienic activity. But crying is not a logical way to express one's opposition to the seventh-grade science curriculum. Emma-Jean submitted a memo to Mr. Petrowski, detailing her objections point by point. He had excused her from the project.
Colleen Pomerantz was not one of the criers, which is shy it was such a surprise when, on a cold February afternoon, Emma-Jean walked into the girls' room and found Colleen leaning over the sink with tears pouring down her face.
Emma-Jean's first thought was that Colleen had been injured. The halls of William Gladstone were crowded and hectic. It was possible that Colleen had been struck in the head by a carelessly slung backpack, or accidentally elbowed in the eye by a rambunctious seventh-grade boy. Emma-Jean Approached Colleen, ready to administer basic first aid if necessary.
"Are you hurt?" Emma-Jean asked.
Colleen shook her head and said in a loud voice, "Oh no! I'm really fine." She straighted her body and smiled.
Emma-Jean peered into Colleen's freckled face. She saw no blood or bruising or swelling. Colleen's pupils appeared normal. But even so, Emma-Jean was quite sure that Colleen was not fine. Certainly Colleen was not really fine. Emma-Jean spent much of her time observing people, trying to understand them better. Really fine people did not have blood-shot eyes and tear-stained cheeks.
Colleen's smile quivered, then collapsed over her braces.
"You're right, Emma-Jean," Colleen whispered. "The truth is I'm not doing well at all. I'm having some trouble, bad trouble, with some of my friends. . ." Colleen shook her head. "Some people . . . aren't nice."
Emma-Jean knew this was true. People sometimes behaved unkindly toward one another, even at William Gladstone Middle School. Hurt feelings, bruised egos, broken promises, betrayed confidences--the list of emotional injuries her fellow seventh graders inflicted on one another was dismaying long.
Of course, Emma-Jean was fond of her peers. In fact, she believed that one was unlikely to find a finer group of young people than the 103 boys and the 98 girls with whom she spent her school days. But their behavior was often irrational. And as a result, their lives were messy. Emma-Jean disliked disorder of any kind, and had thus made it her habit to keep herself separate, to observe from afar.
Colleen looked at herself in the mirror and gasped. "Oh my gosh! Look at me! I look like a monster."
Emma-Jean leaned forward and inspected Colleen's reflection. She saw nothing monstrous. Colleen's eyes were merely red and swollen, which was to be expected of a person in a distressed emotional state. Emma-Jean went to the paper towel dispenser and pulled out a length of the scratchy brown paper. She wet it, folded it into a perfect rectangle, and held it out to Colleen.
"Put his on your eyes," Emma-Jean said. "It will minimize the redness and swelling."
This treatment had always worked well for Emma-Jean's mother, who cried for several hours every July 2 and for several more every November 3. July 2 was the birthday of Eugene Lazarus, Emma-Jean's father. November 3 was the anniversary of his death. He died two years, three months, and fourteen days ago, when Emma-Jean was ten, in a car accident on I-95. He had been on his way home from a math conference, where he had submitted his award-winning paper on the legendary French mathematician Jules Henri Poincare.
Colleen accepted the wet towel and held it against her eyes. To promote an atmosphere of calm, Emma-Jean stood very still with her hands folded in front of her pressed khakis. All was silent except for the slow drip of the right-hand sink.
It's all Laura's fault," Colleen whispered. "Laura Gilroy."
Emma-Jean nodded, for she too often found Laura Gilroy to be disturbing. She was bossy and loud and slammed her locker. Every day at recess, Laura led a group of seventh-grade girls, including Colleen, through a series of dance routines. If someone stumbled or did the wrong move (often it was Colleen who tripped or missed a choreographed kick or turn), Laura would laugh and call them unkind names, such as klutz or spaz. When Laura grew tired of dancing, she would run to the basketball court and snatch the ball from Will Keeler and his friends. Then she would gallop around the blacktop screaming, "Try to get me! Try to get me!"
Emma-Jean wasn't the least bit surprised that Laura Gilroy would cause Colleen Pomerantz to cry.
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