One of the most delightful things about middle grade fiction is the focus on friendship and family over romance, which tends to dominate a lot of young adult reads. In this case, though, romance is the name of the game, at least on the surface. I was a little bit skeptical of the premise, but Emma Emmets, Playground Matchmaker turned out to be totally adorable, full of nerdy jokes, cuteness and allusions to some of my favorite books.
Though the blurb doesn't mention this, probably because kids wouldn't much care, I am one hundred percent convinced that Emma Emmets, Playground Matchmaker is a retelling of Jane Austen's Emma. How awesome is that? SUPER AWESOME. Basically, Emma inadvertently matchmakes Annie and Henry at summer camp, and, when Annie credits her skills, Emma decides this could be just what she needs to make something of herself. Em has been pretty unpopular, because of the horrifyingly EMbarrassing nicknames Isla, the most popular girl in their grade, had given her. Now, she plans to tout her matchmaking skills to make people happy (and to boost her own place in elementary school society).
Like Emma Woodhouse, Emma Emmets has mostly good intentions, but doesn't necessarily have a great grasp on the whole matchmaking thing, because she's not all that familiar with romance and gets a little too caught up in herself. Still, she's pretty successful at matchmaking on the whole. All the boyfriends and girlfriends in fourth grade did creep me out a little bit (there weren't many couples until middle school in my day - most of us still thought the opposite gender was kinda gross), but I like that DeVillers put an emphasis on matchmaking friendships too, not just romantic relationships. The overall message really was about helping kids find kindred spirits, and it really shook up the school's cliques and brought people together.
Emma has a little romance of her own going, that also follows a sort of Jane Austen line. The new boy, Daniel Dunne, makes fun of Emma on the very first day. Since he's rude to her, she decides she hates him too and considers him an enemy. Obviously they're not, and they have a cute little flirtation going, though I love that it's kept very simple and not overly emotion-y.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The writing didn't do too much for me though. DeVillers writes in third person, but it really reads like first person. I am just not a fan of when third person narration is full of exclamation points and ellipses. I prefer my narration a bit more staid and for the thoughts of the MC to be delineated separately. I'm sure this won't bother the intended audience, but it was an annoyance for me.
The Final Verdict:
Emma Emmets, Playground Matchmaker is a funny, sweet story about the trials and tribulations of elementary school friendships and relationships. Though not an ideal read for older readers, the Jane Austen connections were enough to keep me happy!