Book Review: In ‘Emerson Page’ You’ll Recognize the Neighborhood and the Struggles and Magic of Adolescence

By Nancy Novick

There is something magical in recognizing local landmarks in a piece of literature or a film. For Upper West Siders it might be the exterior of the American Museum of Natural History in the Night at the Museum movies, the scene in Andre Aciman’s novel, Eight White Nights in which his lovelorn protagonist stands alone in the night in Straus Park, or the haunting setting of the Dakota in the movie version of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. Perhaps it’s a kind of message to the rest of the world. These characters were here and so are we.

Readers of Christa Avampato’s young adult novel, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, are likely to feel that same thrill of recognition as they follow the heroine’s adventures. Ms. Avampato sets the first and final chapter of her story in an upper west side bookstore, Stargrass Paper & Books (inspired by Westsider Rare and Used Books on Broadway — which also made “appearances” in Todd Haynes’ recently released Wonderstruck and in the decidedly not-child-friendly film, Faded Gigolo.) In between these chapters a magical tale that features a strong female protagonist unfolds, with much of the action taking place in UWS locations including the Hayden Planetarium, Central Park, and Pomander Walk, a complex of small stucco, brick and half-timber apartments on west 95th Street.

Emerson Page is haunted by the loss of her anthropologist mother who died mysteriously at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and determined to find out what happened. Smart and brave, she is also afflicted at times by almost incapacitating anxiety. Her faithful companion Friday, is more than a friend, he is a service dog.

With the knowledge she finds in books, and one magical book in particular, as well as the help of those who love and care for her, Emerson survives a sometimes hazardous journey that leads her to the truth. There are some dark scenes in the novel that younger or more sensitive readers may find disturbing, including a frightening subway ride and Emerson’s narrow escape from a dangerous fire that leaves her in the hospital.

But adults can be assured that Emerson recovers physically and emotionally, and reconnects with her mother’s legacy. For young readers who fall in love with Emerson, there’s good news: in the final pages of the novel, Ms. Avampato sets the scene for Emerson’s next adventure, in which books will continue to play a pivotal role.

Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters is preceded by a sincere and lovely Author’s Note, in which Ms. Avampato explains the inspiration for Emerson, acknowledges that hard times will befall us all, and offers this advice, “Develop your mind, your heart, and your hands. They are the three most powerful tools you have to build a better world…”

Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters (Thumbkin Prints) is available on Amazon as a paperback or ebook.

Nancy Novick is a professional writer and writing instructor with more than 20 years of experience preparing content for professional and consumer audiences. For more information, contact her at nbnovick@gmail.com.

ART, COLUMNS | 1 comment | permalink
    1. Thank you for this wonderful review. I love our neighborhood and it provides constant inspiration for my writing. Very proud to call the UWS home.