Becoming Emily Novak by Audrey Beth Stein

Published: January 31. 2023

Audrey Beth Stein

Pages: 240

Genre: Literary Fiction

KKECReads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I received a copy of this book for free, and I leave my review voluntarily.

Audrey Beth Stein is the author of the picture books BEAR AND DRAGON CAT, DO OVER, LOOK AT ME, and THE DAY MY BEST FRIEND AND A MIGRAINE SLEPT OVER, as well as the memoir MAP, which was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. She earned an MFA from Emerson College and taught creative writing workshops for a decade at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.

Emily Novak’s younger brother Zack is the rebellious one in their family. Ivy-League-bound Emily witnesses Zack’s journey from behind her camera, cowed by the weight of her parents’ confusing expectations and the aftermath of an extended family schism she doesn’t want to think about. An unexpected college heartbreak with a woman sends Emily even further into a cocoon.
As Emily struggles over two decades to find the courage to make her own choices, she observes that her brother’s adventures are bringing him a confidence that she envies. She’s also aware of the rising cost of Zack’s decisions… as well as her own.
Can Emily find a way to be faithful to both herself and the people she loves most? And if she dares to ask the questions, stand her ground, and let her heart open again, might she even find something good?

“Some days were better than others.”

Emily followed the rules and did what she knew would make her parents happy. She didn’t rock the boat or push boundaries. She knew she was different, but she also liked being safe. As she grows up and realizes her comfort zone holds her back and hides some truth, she makes amends. Then she gets the worst phone call.

This was a different book. It wasn’t thrilling or exciting, but something about it felt very authentic.

The family dynamic, drama, and the secrets no one wanted to talk about were all so realistic.

This was a quick glimpse of growing up of going through things that happen in life. Grandparents die. Families fight. There are things no one talks about. Traumas we don’t discuss. Rules that we break, chances we take, and regrets we have.

I found this story arc quite sad. Emily was so reserved and sheltered that she didn’t allow herself to experience things because she was afraid, which is understandable. I loved the balance between Emily and Zack.

Their dynamic was well done. Zack didn’t play by the rules, he didn’t do what anyone else expected, and he seemed fearless. Emily envied that. He also encouraged her to be herself without regret.

This story was about growing up, family, forgiveness, and love.

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