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Em & Em by Linda Budzinski: Recommended Read For Teens

Full of questions on identity and love, this novel will entertain any reader. Readers will be sucked in as Emily changes her name and her identity and struggles with a new life.

ADULT REVIEW | by Kendell Shaffer

What a great book to dive into! Em & Em is wonderfully written, with well-drawn characters. Hard not to read in one sitting. Budzinski really understands how to navigate the world of teens and introduces heavy issues without lecturing.

There are very few adults in the novel, even though it concerns a pretty adult situation: a family is in witness protection because of its 16-year-old daughter, Emily Slovkowski. We take this journey from Emily’s point of view, as she reinvents herself in a new town. The author brings us quickly into Emily’s extremely awkward new world, showing what it’s like to enter a new school with a new identity and a made-up past.

We learn that the family—which includes Emily’s mom and younger sister—had to enter witness protection because Emily may have evidence to convict a murder suspect. It turns out there is more to Emily’s past, something that she has hidden from her family and links her to the murderer.

Emily tries to forget about her old life and integrate into her new high school under the identity of Ember O’Malley. Although she’s happy for the new start, she has trouble being away from her boyfriend, Zach.

Ember integrates surprisingly easily into her new school, landing a job as a photographer at the school newspaper. She is charmed by the cowboy editor, Charles, and becomes confused as to where heart belongs: Zach or Charles?

Amid the romantic struggles, there are other difficult issues, mostly surrounding the date rape drug Rohypnol. The writer handles the introduction of the drug and its effects on Emily in a very logical way, with no lecturing. The reader is right there with Emily and the other teens as they discuss and deal with the drug, and with drinking and partying in general.

I highly recommend this novel to teen girls, though I think it could be important for teen boys as well. Em’s two boyfriends in the novel, Zach and Charles, are kind and caring and speak nicely to her, in contrast to other male characters n the book. It’s reassuring to see that Em is drawn to the kind boys and stays clear of the others.

I’m looking forward to reading more from this thoughtful and entertaining new author.

Kendell Shaffer is a young adult novelist and teaches screenwriting to teens in Los Angeles. Learn more at

TEEN REVIEW | by Sydney Eliot

From the moment I read the first paragraph of Em & Em, I was wrapped up in the story of Emily (or Ember as her new friends know her) and refused to put the book down. It is full of relatable characters, thrilling plot twists, and enticing storytelling. Emily pulls you into her beautiful yet terrifying world and won’t let you go until the unexpected and mysterious ending. 

Emily lived a quiet life. Not a popular girl at her school in New Jersey, she spent her time taking photographs and swooning over boys. However, her life drastically changed when she met Zach, a gorgeous boy from a different social group. From then on, she fell into a pattern of parties, drugs, and a hunger for truth. Emily became a witness for a murder case that sent her into Witness Protection far away. There she began a new life away from her troubled, haunted past.

Can Emily keep her original identity or is the girl from the Jersey Shore lost forever? It’s a mysterious love story that will leave you wanting more. Quick yet beautiful, Em & Em is a must read.

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