REVIEWFrom the opening pages of the book the reader gets a glimpse into what Emily wants:
-- to be a photojournalist like her grandmother,
and what she fears:
--not liking or being liked by her new little sister Mei Lin,
and what she wonders:
--why did her parents need another child and why wasn't she enough?
In order to follow her grandmother's career as a photojournalist, Emily decides to,
a) bring along her grandmother's camera to China without her parents' permission so that,
b) she can take pictures and win a scholarship to the best photojournalism camp in the country.
These threads weave throughout the book and--you guessed it--get her into trouble.
Right off the plane, she meets a Chinese girl named Katherine who was adopted as a baby. Katherine's family are a part of Emily's group and have come to China to adopt another child. Although Emily has her doubts about Katherine, the two end up bonding over Katherine's secret: she plans to contact her birth mother while in China and needs Emily's help.
Emily's days are filled with boring meetings over finalizing Mei Lin's adoption, secret adventures with Katherine, and learning to love and be loved by Mei Lin.
Half-way through the book Mei Lin gets sick and Emily begins to realize how much she cares for her little sister. Another crucial scene is when the group visits Mei Lin's orphanage. Suddenly, Emily begins to see what it was like for Mei Lin and Katherine to be abandoned as babies. When the girls visit the park where Katherine's mother left her (a common practice), Emily watches her friend.
She sunk on the ground, running her hand over the grass, "This is where she left me," she said quietly.
I just stood there, not knowing what to say. I reached for Nana's camera, but I froze as I looked at Katherine through the lens, the way she was staring down at the grass, a look in her eyes I'd never seen before. Despair. Overwhelming sadness,. Loss. Her eyes were filled with a kind of pain I would never know, the kind that comes from realizing your mother--the person who was supposed to love you and keep you safe--had abandoned you in the exact spot where you were standing.
I put my camera down. (pp. 153-54)
Emily Out of Focus is a realistic portrayal of a 12-year-old girl's coming to grips with a new adopted sibling. Combining Mei Lin's story with Katherine's brings a richness to the novel and will open middle grade reader's eyes to a world they might never have known.