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Literature / The Evolution of Emily

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The Evolution of Emily is a 2014 young adult novel by Kate Scott.
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Sixteen-year-old Emily Charles and her autistic fourteen-year-old sister Olivia have been homeschooled all their lives by their anxiety-ridden mom. Emily, feeling stifled, persuades her parents to let her attend Kennedy High School, where she joins the cross-country running team. Emily befriends Miles Silverberg, her lab partner with ADHD, as well as August Dixon, a boy on her team who can run almost as quickly as she can. Emily has had little experience interacting with people outside her family, and she struggles with social interaction in school, and especially with her feelings towards August.


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The Evolution of Emily contains examples of:

  • Calling Parents by Their Name: August's dad isn't super parental, as he puts it, so he calls him Jason.
  • Commonality Connection:
    • August and Emily enjoy running together, pushing each other to go faster.
    • When Emily introduces Miles to Olivia, the two immediately connect over their interest in science. They do chemistry experiments in the backyard and look at things through Olivia's microscope.
    • Emily invites Sam Wilson over to her house. She's always seen Sam as more popular than herself, and is worried Sam will be mean to Olivia, like a girl from her homeschooling group she brought over when she was eleven. But it turns out Sam is in special ed due to dyslexia and ADD, so she instantly understands Olivia.
  • Guyliner: August's emo friend Tristan Chamberlain wears dark eyeliner.
  • Handshake Refusal: When Miles visits Emily's house, he tries to shake hands with Olivia, who shoves both her hands in her pockets and steps back. Miles says, "Good call, Olivia. I definitely have cooties. Boys are gross. Emily, I advise you to take a lesson from your sister here and steer clear."
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  • Happy Rain: Olivia loves being rained on. She likes the cold feeling of the drops, the sound, the fresh smell, and the way it seems to wash everything else away.
  • Hates Being Touched: Olivia hates having her personal space invaded, and hits or kicks people who touch her. She describes the feeling of skin as hot, sticky, and gross. She doesn't even like the feeling of her own skin, which is why she doesn't wear shorts.
  • Just Friends: Miles asks Emily to the homecoming dance and she says no, saying she hasn't adjusted to school yet. Then August asks her and she says yes. She tells Miles that the real reason she rejected him is that she wants them to stay friends. Miles doesn't talk to her for weeks.
  • Let's Wait Awhile: Emily wants to have sex with August, but August wants to wait. He's the product of an accidental teen pregnancy, he feels like he messed up his dad's life, and he doesn't want to do anything that might result in a baby until he's older and more independent.
  • Long-Distance Relationship: Sam's boyfriend Nate graduated last year and is now attending Dartmouth. His quiet pensivity, which was attractive in person, makes having a Skype relationship with him difficult. Sam plans to break up with him during Thanksgiving break.
  • Minor Living Alone: August's stepdad Blake moved out of his homophobic parents' home when he was fifteen. He spent three years as a homeless busker, enduring robbery and assault. Once someone even peed on him. His life improved when he joined the band Funkalicious, and the drummer let him sleep in his van.
  • Missing Mom: August is the product of his gay dad's Last Het Romance while he was in high school. He was raised by his dad, first with the help of his grandparents and then alone. He's never lived for any amount of time with his mom, who he describes as a flake.
  • Poster-Gallery Bedroom: Emily and Olivia's bedroom is covered in posters of male celebrities, including Austin Mahone. When August comes over, Emily is embarrassed of the posters and decides to do some redecorating soon.
  • Sensory Overload: Emily takes Olivia to a modern art gallery they've never been to before. The first few paintings they see are bright and aggressive. Then they come across a multimedia installation with loud industrial noises and strobe lights. Olivia screams and covers her ears. Emily asks the gallery employee to turn off the audio, then leads Olivia back out.
  • The Shut-In: Emily's mom is severely agoraphobic. She'll occasionally venture outside if she's medicated, but mostly she stays in. Olivia isn't allowed off the property unless she's supervised by either Emily or their dad, so now that Emily's in school, Olivia is more isolated than ever.
  • Working Out Their Emotions: Emily has been running to deal with stress and frustration since she was eleven. Running makes her feel so alive that it feels like nothing else matters.
  • You Are Grounded!: Mom walks in on Emily kissing August and responds by grounding her. She considers pulling Emily out of school, but Dad talks her out of it.

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