A gifted youngster explores the world of late-19th-century Iowa in this historical novel for young readers.
In this book by Rubino (Peppino and the Streets of Gold, 2016, etc.), Emmet Roche is a little boy unlike any other in his rural farming town. While other children merely endure the classes taught in their one-room schoolhouse, he loves them. While other children play outside, Emmet reads. And while other children hone their farming skills, Emmet, much to the dismay of his father and teachers, conducts experiments. Everywhere he looks, he sees a puzzle to be solved or an idea to be tested. And he’ll do anything to do so, no matter how messy—or downright dangerous—it gets. His ultimate ambition is to find a way to store and harness electricity, but this goal is hampered by his teachers’ misunderstanding, his friends’ ridicule, his poor eyesight, and his tendency to get hurt while exploring the world. Eventually, his father sends him to a school more suited for someone of his intellect. There, he soon finds that he can do more than just show off—and that sometimes learning can be a lifesaver. If this book does one thing right, it’s making Emmet’s joy in learning contagious. It describes each of his experiments in loving detail, and even illustrates many of them. Truly dedicated young scientists will particularly enjoy the gallery of real-life patent diagrams at the end, including one by Thomas Edison. But unfortunately, the author isn’t as adept at describing people as she is at describing inventions. The dialogue often feels stilted and full of facts that may be interesting historically, but aren’t very relevant to the conversations at hand, such as when one little girl announces, “That kind of house is called a soddie, Miss. We lived in one when I was little.” The story also ends abruptly without answering many of the questions that drove the story.
An experiment with YA literature that disappoints as often as it delights.