Brenda Woods

Emako Blue

  • This summary of Emako Blue includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

Emako Blue Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Emako Blue by Brenda Woods.

Emako Blue by Brenda Woods is a young-adult novel for readers thirteen-plus. Woods is an up-and-coming YA novelist who has published seven novels thus far. Emako Blue is set in inner-city Los Angeles. It features alternating narration, in first person, and is structured mostly through flashbacks. It deals with poverty, gang violence, guns in America, and the way communities can influence the circumstances of youth. It won the IRA Best Young Adult Novel Award in 2005. Kirkus Reviews says the novel “packs a huge emotional punch with its depiction of innocence lost to random gang violence.”

The novel begins with the funeral of Emako Blue, a fifteen-year-old African-American girl who is killed in a drive-by shooting. The events leading up to her death are observed and narrated by her four friends, alternating chapters. Emako’s family comes from the poverty and crime-ridden South Central Los Angeles. Her brother Dante, part of a gang, is just recently released from jail. The beginning of the novel details how gangs work and the reason for gang membership. Her brother’s return causes problems for the family, putting it at risk for violence from other gangs in the area, specifically revenge killings.

The four friends are gathered in the church together for her funeral, and the flashback narration beings a few months prior. Emako arrives at her new school. She wants to be a singer, and her career starts showing promise. She is extremely gifted and everyone around her believes in her beautiful voice. She is approached by many talent agents but turns them down to finish school. Hoping to use her talent as a singer to escape her current life and move on to bigger things, away from poverty, she dreams big. As she progresses, her background and where she lives often hinder her success, showing the bias in the music industry.

Emako first meets Monterey Hamilton, her new best friend, in choral class. Monterey’s family is wealthier, a contrast to Emako’s upbringing. Monterey seeks to learn from Emako and to understand the world she comes from. She’s an excellent student, driven to succeed. Her parents judge Emako and make assumptions based on where she comes from. Monterey has a crush on Eddie.

Eddie is smart and shows great potential, but is adverse to his unlucky circumstances: being raised in the ghetto. He wants to escape. Similar to Emako, his brother also has a history with gangs. Eddie is working hard to ensure his college applications are strong in order to escape his current situation – similar to Emako’s desire to escape through singing. He spends three summers in accelerated school in order to apply early.

Jamal is Emako’s crush. They begin a relationship shortly after they meet. Despite him being a lady’s man, Emako is confident and controls the relationship. She sees through his front. He shares a similar background to Emako – one of the reasons they connect. Although he is dating a girl named Gina when he meets Emako, he begins to like Emako more. He takes Emako on a date to Disneyland, where he reveals his deeper feelings.

Savannah, the antagonist of the novel (in addition to the external antagonism of their society), is jealous of Emako’s popularity and her ability as a singer. She is also jealous of Emako and Jamal’s relationship. Savannah, who often spreads false rumors, begins one about Emako when she starts dating Jamal. Savannah is close with Gina and justifies spreading rumors as a means to defend her friend. Savannah elicits sympathy from readers because she herself is bullied for being bigger and having lighter skin. Savannah shows the reader how young people can project themselves onto their peers and lash out from their own insecurity.

Emako’s murder happens at her house with her friends around. Dante and his friends are sitting outside. A car slowly drives up, and when he realizes it’s a drive-by shooting attempt, Dante runs away. They aim for Dante but end up shooting Emako, who dies. Dante, rather than staying with his sister, keeps running out of fear. This represents his inability to take responsibility for his life and choices; he only realizes his carelessness after it’s too late.

The end of the novel circles back to the funeral. Emako’s friends and family reflect on her and their relationships to her. Monterey deeply cares about her and misses her. Jamal feels the same way, realizing that she was the only one who could see his true personality. Eddie sees himself in Emako’s place; he could have just as easily become a victim of gang revenge. Savannah has an interesting reaction and is filled with regret. She wishes she could have apologized for her actions, realizing just how special Emako was.

Emako’s family members are also devastated by the murder. They talk about her innocence and the unjustness of her death. Dante is broken up, knowing he could have prevented this outcome, but chose not to. The reaction to Emako’s death more broadly represents the damage gang violence – and by extension, institutionalized poverty – can effect, not only on gang members, but also those in their community. Furthermore, it sheds perspective on gun violence and how people’s lives can change in a split second because of guns.