Disclaimer: I received a copy of Emily Out of Focus from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.


Twelve-year-old Emily is flying with her parents to China to adopt and bring home a new baby sister. She’s excited but nervous to travel across the world and very aware that this trip will change her entire life. And the cracks are already starting to show the moment they reach the hotel–her parents are all about the new baby, and have no interest in exploring.

In the adoption trip group, Emily meets Katherine, a Chinese-American girl whose family has returned to China to adopt a second child. The girls eventually become friends and Katherine reveals a secret: she’s determined to find her birth mother, and she wants Emily’s help.

emily out of focus

Summary: Emily Out of Focus

When Emily’s parents travel to China to adopt her little sister, they learn about Chinese culture and trans-racial/continental adoption. Emily also meets Katherine, a girl her age who was adopted from China and is — unbeknownst to anyone but Emily — looking for her birth mother.

The Good

The entire book is a remarkable immersion into Chinese culture for anyone who’s never visited. I loved reading about the new food and city life Emily experiences. It’s also an honest exploration of the behind-the-scenes of adoption from China, from the perspective of adoptive parents. I learned a great deal about why there’s a spike in Chinese adoptions as well as what the process is like. Emily Out of Focus is in that sense a reminder of what’s so wonderful about children’s books — a variety of subjects tackled as compassionately as possible.

Emily Out of Focus is a reminder of what's so wonderful about children's books -- a variety of subjects tackled as compassionately as possible. Click To Tweet

Still, the book is utterly realistic in the way the parents handle Emily and Katherine’s adventures and the overall ending of the story. Also, in my opinion, Author Franklin does a wonderful job of showing respect for Chinese culture, while depicting the experience through a child’s eyes. Other little details I liked about the story:

  • Emily’s love for photography
  • The emphasis on what it means to be a good friend
  • Focus on adjusting to having a younger sibling after being an only child for a long time
  • Overall sense of adventure
  • Based on the author’s experience of adopting from China

The Bad

My only real complaint is that I found this book more educative than enjoyable. I see the need for books like this, but I also believe books can teach without making the reader feel like they’re taking a course on the subject matter. For example, I was completely lost in Alicia William’s Genesis Begins Again, despite it being a serious look at colorism.


Although I didn’t always enjoy the storytelling in Emily Out of Focus, I would certainly recommend this middle-grade novel. Readers interested in trans-racial/continental adoption (from China, specifically) will find this book enlightening. Emily Out of Focus will also appeal to lovers of books about photography, unlikely friendships, and adventures in a foreign country.

Emily Out of Focus will appeal to lovers of books about photography, unlikely friendships, and adventures in a foreign country. Click To Tweet

Emily Out of Focus Is out May 7

Emily Out of Focus

More Reviews

Have you read this book or anything by Miriam Spitzer Franklin? What did you think? What are your favorite books about adoption? I made a list of mine here. I’d love to know your picks!

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