This was my first experience with YA non-fiction, and while this was incredibly well researched, interesting, and at times even heartbreaking, I found myself slightly annoyed at the word choice for much of this book.
“Charles and Emma” chronicles an exceptionally detailed account of Charles and Emma Darwin’s life both professionally and familial from right before their wedding in 1839 to Emma’s death in 1896. It’s beautifully researched, with quotations from articles, diaries, personal letters, and an abundance of primary documentation. But the language….As usual, I am not the intended audience for this book and there’s a good possibility that its middle star rating is mostly that I’ve passed the age bracket in which I need to be reminded of the fact that these were real people with real feelings. But seriously….if Heiligman told me one more time that Emma just loved her sister/cat/shoes/children or that Charles just loved his wife/work/barnacles/best friend one more time, I was going to toss the book across the room.
It is obvious from the primary source documentation that the Darwins and their extended family and friends were wonderful, open minded and kind people, so I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to the kum-ba-ahing and love circles. Heiligman also in no way shies away from the gut-wrenching family illnesses and deaths, giving a nice dose of 19th Century reality to her YA audience, so it’s not completely Disney, but there were parts that just seemed so sugary-sweet that I felt myself fighting the urge to slew sarcastic remarks at the non-sentient book.
However, as much as the language bothered me, I did enjoy learning about the Darwins’ life beyond the scope of Charles’ research and the controversy surrounding his theory. It was refreshing to learn about Darwin, the family man, and the truth about how careful he was to protect his family from the controversies of his research while at the same time pushing science forward in an era of closed-minded thinking and repressive religion.
I would definitely recommend this to YA readers, and I think this book is especially accessible as a middle-grade introduction to the non-fiction genre.