Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 671
Having lived for sixteen years in Amherst, Massachusetts, and having explored the town records, letters, newspapers, and any other historical artifacts that would lend credibility to her work, Longsworth opens doors of polite intimacy that will intrigue the young adult reader. Even prior to the prologue, Longsworth introduces the theme of the book with one of Dickinson’s typically untitled poems: “This is my letter to the World/ That never wrote to Me—” Such an introduction may create an immediate bond of unity with young adults, who often feel isolated or overlooked. The inclusion of Dickinson’s works throughout the book provides concrete examples of her thoughts, moods, and talent. The young person who is interested in analyzing Dickinson’s style and structure will have opportunity to do so with the ample illustrations that are given. The novice at writing, however, will not be overwhelmed by Dickinson’s perplexing style, as Longsworth provides sufficient narrative surrounding each work.
To assist the young adult reader in visualizing the setting, Longsworth has included both geographic and historic positioning in the prologue. Beginning with those physical features such as rivers and mountains, which do not change in a few centuries, she moves on to agriculture, industry, and institutions of higher learning, which are subject to alteration. She includes the birth of the University of Massachusetts as Massachusetts Agricultural College and the inception of Amherst Col-lege. Such a chronology assists the reader in becoming a citizen of the story and sets the mood for the acceptance of what may have been considered simply history.
Appropriately for a young adult audience, Longsworth chooses to begin her story during the summer of Dickinson’s fourteenth year. As the reader meets Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, she is sweltering through yet another college commencement exercise and wondering how much longer the speeches will last. She would much prefer being outside celebrating with others on the common. Yet she continues to repeat the tradition necessary to one whose family has been bound to Amherst College for two generations. As the daughter of a trustee and the granddaughter of one of the founders of the college, Emily has no choice but to sit through commencement.
As the story unfolds, the reader might easily identify with Dickinson’s submissive responses to her elders or might wonder why she does not rebel and set out on a life of her own choosing. As Longsworth develops the story’s atmosphere, the reader senses the mores of New England in the mid-nineteenth century and can empathize with Dickinson’s responses. The definite presence of decorum, the role of religion, and the pressure of social position are all perceived by the audience through the narrative and the dialogue and responses of the characters. Dickinson usually did as she was told by her father, whether she agreed with his commands or not. Her obedience rose from a sense of duty, the strength of her love, and a keen awareness that her father was acting out of what he believed to be her best interests.
Longsworth shares with the reader, through dialogue and letters, the concern that Dickinson’s parents demonstrated for her delicate health. On more than one occasion, she was removed from school for several weeks or a semester in order to reestablish her physical well-being. It was during these times that she had more leisure in which to read and write. Young adult readers may be inspired by the fact that Dickinson made even her unproductive times into productive ones.
Although Longsworth could not have known what was actually said in conversation among her characters, she has not restricted dialogue to dull or mundane topics. Rather, the lively and plentiful communication holds true to character, as expressed in the letters that are based on the voluminous material discovered or revealed in the months following the death of Dickinson. Most young readers, as well as adults, appreciate authors who are daring enough to make characters come alive through dialogue that seems to represent honest emotion and opinion.