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Under Emily’s Sky

by Ann Alma

As this book opens, Lee’s mother forces Lee’s alcoholic father to leave the family. Eleven-year-old Lee can’t express her overwhelming anger, which abates only at school next day when the teacher shows slides of Emily Carr’s paintings, and encourages the class to paint in Carr’s style. Lee loves to paint, but her father sold her paints and easel for liquor money while Lee and her mother were camping. On the weekend, Lee goes camping again with her mother, cousin Alex, and uncle. An accidental blow to the head transports her back in time to find Emily Carr camped on the same beach. Alex is somehow with her. As Lee and Alex try to determine where they are, they also meet a family of clandestine loggers. Lee paints with Emily Carr before returning to the present.

This is a boldly imagined book, with good character development. Lee’s frustrations are realistically portrayed and readers will identify with her. But problems with writing and plot prevent the work from achieving its full potential. Characters often move from place to place with surprising abruptness and the time travel theme is handled awkwardly. The author would like us to believe the time travel was not Lee’s fantasy. Lee learns details about the Depression and Emily Carr’s life that were unknown to her and true. But the story ends abruptly just after Lee regains consciousness. Lee’s uncle mentions a magazine article about people travelling through time while unconscious, but this explanation seems pasted on and is less believable than magic might have been. Alex does not remember travelling with Lee and his role is not explained. Emily Carr told Lee she seemed familiar, which leads the reader to expect a resolution to the time travel theme that never develops. Because time travel has become a cliché in children’s books, it requires more careful handling than it receives here. This is too bad, because the author shows real skill in character development and the basic concept of Under Emily’s Sky is certainly worth exploring.