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Dream On, Amber: 01/15/16

Dream On, Amber by Emma Shevah

The British have a LONG history of diary writing and perhaps as long a history of reading each other's diaries. The most famous (infamous?) of the diary keepers is Samuel Pepys. In terms of fiction, though, I see two more recent books as the progenitors of the on-going flood of diary themed books coming out of the UK: The Secret Life of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend (1982) and Bridge Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (1996).

From Bridget Jones we get the parodies of the genre, namely the delightfully wacky Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison (1999).

Where the Georgia Nicolson series are YA, spanning the very youngest of YA to about the middle of it, age wise, Dream On, Amber by Emma Shevah is middle grade and were it to continue as a series, would probably end at the young end of YA. That, though, is just idle speculation on my part! Like all these books, Amber's misadventures in school and at home are written down as a diary entries.

Lucy from Servant x ServiceAt the moment, Dream On, Amber is a middle grade novel about a English girl of Italian and Japanese heritage. Her full name is Ambra Alessandra Leola Kimiko Miyamato (whose long name brings to mind Lucy of the many names from the delightful Servant x Service manga (and 13 episode animé 2013). But just call Ambra, Amber.

One of the big themes in middle grade fiction this year has been the missing parent. The parent has either divorced the other, died tragically, is otherwise unknown, or has run off for reasons unknown to the protagonist.

In Amber's case, it's her Japanese father who has presumably gone back to Japan when his marriage didn't work out. The specifics aren't given and frankly aren't relevant. He's alive but he's not an active part in his daughters' lives. Amber the oldest girl can just barely remember him and misses him. Her younger sister, though, has never met their father and doesn't really have a spot for him in her life. Why should she?

The younger sister, Bella, has a birthday coming up and Amber, deciding that she needs to have Dad in her life, beings to write letters to her kid sister, pretending to be him. Dad becomes a world famous spy, busy saving the world for the Japanese government. Bella takes to the challenge and starts writing back, making more and more demands of her heroic spy father.

While this could have been set up as a tragedy where both girls end up distraught over their missing father, it doesn't play out that way. Bella is not as young or impulsive, or weird as Georgia's sister. She's just playing the part cast for her in this letter writing panto. I really liked how the two girls ended up closer together at the end of this letter writing silliness.

What I didn't like is how Amber's delightful British tween voice is mangled by the well meaning American publisher who just can't fathom American readers being able to handle (gasp) British English. Trust me, kids can sort it out and the book would be ten times better if it were left unadulterated.

Please Sourcebooks / Jabberwocky (and all other US publishers / importers) the next time you bring a British kid's story over, LEAVE THE DAMN TEXT ALONE. Your readers of all ages will thank you.

Four stars

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