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Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters

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By February of 1991, when Amicus Shoemacher is assigned to correspond with Nada, who lives in Rijeka in the Republic of Croatia, Yugoslavia, her life has already begun to unravel. The only bright spot in her life is her favorite baby cousin, Emily. Ami's life further unravels on March 25 of that year when Emily is hit by a car and dies. Ami doesn't respond to Nada's letters at first, but when she does, she learns having a friend so far away comforts her. Through her own letters, Nada shares insights into life in a country at war, including nights spent awake fearing that her home will be broken into and that she will be killed. Ami, while dealing with her own depression, tries to comprehend what it would be like to live in the middle of a real war. Things start to look up for Ami as she develops a romantic relationship with a new boy in class, Andy, and she renews her friendship with Krissa. Meanwhile, the war in Yugoslavia deepens. By the beginning of 1992, although Nada begins to adapt to her normal in the newly recognized country of Croatia, Ami finds her happiness was short-lived. Holidays without Emily were devastating and Andy breaks his promise to keep in touch. Will Ami, unable to adapt like Nada, decide to take her own life?

148 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 2012

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About the author

Jodie Toohey

15 books26 followers
Jodie Toohey is the owner and operator of Wordsy Woman Author Services, a company that helps authors, soon-to-be authors, and want-to-be authors from pre-idea to readers with craft advice, revision and editing services, and book marketing planning services. She is the author of seven books, three poetry collections - Crush and Other Love Poems for Girls, The Other Side of Crazy, and Versed in Nature: Hiking Northwest Illinois and West Iowa State Parks - and three novels - Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters, Melody Madson - May It Please the Court?, Taming the Twisted, and Taming the Twisted 2 Reconstructing Rain. Jodie lives with her family in Davenport, Iowa.

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Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews
Profile Image for Shawn StJean.
Author 6 books35 followers
February 25, 2013
From my blog review at clothosloom.wordpress.com:
When I was a boy--30 and more years ago--many bookstores and libraries did not host a collection designated specifically for teens. Aside from books by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Louis Stevenson (both of whom require a high level of literacy to enjoy, are plot-driven, and definitely meant for boys) the vast majority of what I read was meant for adults.

Clearly, my past does not make me an expert on YA Fiction. But I feel fortunate to have been randomly assigned to evaluate this short, 130-page work by the IndiePENdents organization, as part of its application of books for its approval seal.

I expect, just as most readers of Seventeen Magazine appear to be ages 12-14, a novel that follows the epistolary exchange of two girls (Ami and Nada,) ages 15 and 14, would probably be of more interest to the pre-teen set than those actually attending high school. Ami has never been kissed by a boy before, and her innocent "get a boyfriend" plan may have amused this 45-year-old man than it would most of the U.S. sophomores out there.

This book has several features to offer teens that raise it above the norm. First, it is set in 1991, the year Croatia declared itself independent of the Republic of Yugoslavia. Not only, then, does it offer some instructive European history from the half-decade before most of its target audience was born, but it also unfolds in a world where true pen-pals (paper, ink, and postage stamps) were still viable: no internet or cellular telephones. When people in your life left, they were, at least for a time and sometimes forever, gone.

The heart of the narrative lies in its juxtaposition of the trials of the girls from two different cultures. Ami's parents are recently divorced and she must adjust to the custody schedule, her favorite baby cousin has died, and she's entertaining thoughts of suicide. Meanwhile, Orthodox Catholic Nada resides in Rijeka, insulated a bit from the war-torn district of Dubrovnik, but not immune to racial and religious hate crimes. She lies awake at night thinking of the mailed and telephoned death-threats her parents hide from her, her father has fled to Italy to avoid induction, and her basement is occupied by a pregnant couple desperate to keep their new family together. As Ami writes to her friend, "I'm grateful my hell is only in my head. . . .You have no control over your hell" (71).

Poignant stuff, when compared to the series-vampire and werewolf fare that monopolizes the shelves--some of it admittedly well-written--but not particularly designed to edify kids preparing to enter a harsh, actual world in the 21st Century. I was particularly pleased at Toohey's corrective to the American view that Serbs were the sole aggressors in the Croatian war (and this done in a palatable, non-didactic manner.) Be the truth of this interpretation as it may, one rejoices to see the spirit of inquiry raised for young people--if they wish to know more, a little outside research can only add to the enjoyment here.

Recommended ****

Profile Image for Megan.
49 reviews
December 30, 2012
I was happy to win Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters in the first-reads giveaways. Reading the summary, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. In the first few chapters, I started to get into it and got to know the characters. Though I can’t say I can relate to the situations in this book, I found it to be unique and entertaining.

Missing Emily is about a girl named Ami and her pen pal from Croatia named Nada. Ami is a very quiet girl whose passions in life are music and her baby cousin, Emily. She writes letters to Nada about the basic details of her life, which mostly include Emily. When Emily passes away suddenly, Ami is lost. She doesn’t want to write Nada back even though Nada is having problems of her own with war going on because of Croatia wanting to become an independent country. After a few months, Ami writes Nada back and they learn to lean on each other by discussing their secrets about their situations. Though Nada is learning to cope, Ami isn’t sure if she can do the same.

This was a very short and interesting book. I have never read anything about war in Croatia so that was a nice twist. However, this is not a war book. I like how it shows and focuses on all the letters written back and forth between Nada and Ami while also being narrated by Ami. This book has to do with depression and dealing with difficulties in life. I would recommend it for anyone who likes to read about those sort of topics as well as anyone who wants a good quick read.
1,134 reviews14 followers
May 26, 2013
Ami's world is falling apart. Her father left her mother for a younger woman. Her mother now has to put her plan for law school on hold and becomes very depressed. Then her favorite niece is hit by a car and killed. The story unfolds as she writes her class assigned pen pal, Nada. Nada is living in the war-torn Republic of Croatia. Nada’s letters express her fear, describe the death threats her parents receive, and the religious and ethnic persecution they face. Follow along as they deal with their problems.

The letters are the backbone of the book.
Profile Image for Cindi.
118 reviews
May 10, 2013
This book is mostly letters between teenage pen pals in the U.S. and Croatia. Teenagers are basically the same, no matter what country they live in. Short, easy read.
Profile Image for Jane Reddish.
180 reviews43 followers
April 7, 2021
First of all, I thought the novel is only set in Croatia. I did not read the synopsis because sometimes they cover the first half of the story, and I don't like to be spoiled especially when a book is as short as this one.
The story is about two girls who write letters to each other across continents. It records their everyday relationship with family, friends, and lovers.
I like the expressive way of the teens in writing, but I find Ami to be kind of unattached to Nada's life. Every time she receives bad news from Croatia, she'd only say how lucky she is to live in a country far away from war and then goes on to wallow in her own problems.
Really, it's depressing on both sides of the correspondence.

For the 2021 Popsugar Reading Challenge, this is for prompts "set in multiple countries", "about a place I want to visit", and "associated with a favorite person, place or thing".
35 reviews
February 6, 2017
I chose to read this particular book by Jodie Toohey because of the subtitle. My ethnic heritage includes Hungarian which I've learned is rather a broad category since my great-grandparents immigrated during or just after the first World War. Curiosity about this region of the world caused me to pick it up; kindred connection with the historical setting (1991-1992) kept me reading. I will definitely be recommending this book to my children as a peek into my own teen years as well as the experiences of those living in Croatia during that time.
Profile Image for Karen.
Author 26 books152 followers
November 21, 2014
Jodie Toohey does an excellent job of juxtaposing the life of a young girl in a war-torn country and that of a young American girl--not in physical danger but seeing her own family torn apart by divorce and death. I bought this for my granddaughter but am glad I read it first. Highly recommend it for anyone but especially young teens.
Profile Image for gj indieBRAG.
1,505 reviews66 followers
May 16, 2014
We are proud to announce that MISSING EMILY: CROATIAN LIFE LETTERS by Jodie Toohey is a B.R.A.G.Medallion Honoree. This tells a reader that this book is well worth their time and money!
Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews

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