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The Metamorphosis of Emma Murry

The Metamorphosis of Emma Murry

By Rebecca LaxtonPublisher: Warren PublishingISBN: 978-1-960146-23-6Genre: Middle GradePrice: $16.99

Winner of the Purple Dragonfly Children’s Book Award and a gold recipient of the Mom's Choice Award, placing among the best in family-friendly media.

Thirteen-year-old Emma Murry has three goals for summer vacation: finish her art terms project, land an ollie, and help the environmental club save the monarchs.

But then her Instagram crush Jeb Scott and his celebrity dad Chester make a surprise visit to Black Mountain. At first, Emma is thrilled, then she overhears their plans to destroy the monarch butterfly garden to build a ski resort. She and her best friend Sophie add a new summer goal: STOP. THE. SCOTTS.

Ignoring Sophie’s warnings, Emma makes friends with Jeb, convinced she can change his mind. Then when a mysterious threat is left at the Scott’s house, Emma teams up with Jeb to investigate. She slowly discovers people are not what they seem as she attempts to untangle friendships, organize a protest, and uncover the supernatural secrets hiding on the mountain.

Emma will have to go through her own metamorphosis by overcoming her fears and facing what she dreads. If she fails, she could jeopardize everything— butterflies, friendships, and her family.

Rebecca Laxton has served school communities as an afterschool program director, reading specialist, and school psychologist. She was named the Kentucky School Psychologist of the Year for collaborating with teachers and administrators to write and evaluate an emotional intelligence curriculum. Currently, Rebecca is a dyslexia practitioner and children’s author. Her memoir essay, “Throw Like a Girl,” about playing on a mostly boys Little League team, can be found in The Love of Baseball (McFarland 2017). Her debut middle grade novel, The Metamorphosis of Emma Murry, was inspired by the Gen Z creators who've used technology to encourage others to take care of our planet.

Rebecca attended Georgetown College where she majored in English and psychology and then she studied school psychology at Eastern Kentucky University. Years later, she took a children’s literature class at UNC Charlotte just for fun, and loved it so much that she enrolled in the MALS program to study children’s literature and creative writing. She enjoys spending time in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband Steve, four kids, and three dogs.

Find Rebecca on Twitter and Instagram and learn more at rebeccalaxton.com.


A smart, riveting environmental tale with a laudable adolescent cast.

In this debut middle-grade novel, a teenage girl fights an environmentally destructive development in her hometown, where a werewolf roams.

Thirteen-year-old Emma Murry loves nature and animals. She and her best friend, Sophie, are proud members of their middle school’s Environmental Club in Black Mountain, North Carolina, a place renowned for its monarch butterfly population. So they, like other locals, are horrified by the news that a ski resort is in the works. Its environmental impact will be devastating, starting with tearing down the community’s monarch butterfly garden. Some Black Mountain residents support the development, seeing it as an economic boost. The girls brainstorm ways to protest, and even act on some of them, before learning that action movie star of yesteryear Chester Scott is the one planning the resort; Emma’s been crushing on Chester’s teen son Jeb via Instagram. She forces herself to look past Jeb’s indisputable cuteness and sells him on Black Mountain’s natural beauty, hoping the boy can change his father’s mind. But when they discover a bizarre set of paw prints, Emma and Jeb become convinced that there’s a werewolf on the loose. Identifying the lycanthrope gives Emma another great excuse to spend time with Jeb and, while she’s at it, try to scare the resort developers away. There’s not much time, as the zoning meeting to greenlight the project takes place in only a week. It’s an uphill battle for Emma, but she knows her beloved environment is worth it.

Rebecca Laxton delivers a diverting, environment-friendly mystery. The werewolf subplot focuses more on investigation than scares; Emma first has to prove that a werewolf even exists before identifying its human counterpart. Further engaging plot threads emerge from the narrative as well, including a death threat against Chester, a wrongfully accused townsperson, and a character who turns up missing in the final act. Emma is an appealing young hero who shares a subtle romance with Jeb. She quickly sees him as more than a social media idol; the two connect over their love of skateboarding and their utter belief in the existence of a legendary shape-shifting creature. At the same time, there’s potential trouble between Emma and Sophie. Sophie doesn’t hide her animosity toward Jeb, and her perpetual negativity spoils some of the book’s lightheartedness. Descriptions are colorful; Emma, a painter, equates people’s traits with soothing hues (e.g., “buttery yellow”). Rebecca Laxton’s prose, meanwhile, engages multiple senses: “At lunchtime, the crowd flocked to the restaurants. The street smelled like hot bread, tangy oregano, and warm tomato sauce, making my stomach rumble.” There’s educational value, too, as Emma not only praises nature, but also notes for Jeb (and readers) things that harm the environment. Gracie Laxton’s black-and-white minimalist artwork prefaces each chapter. These unembellished illustrations and silhouettes leave lasting impressions of such things as a howling wolf and a wheels-up skateboard.

A smart, riveting environmental tale with a laudable adolescent cast.

Kirkus Reviews

Emma Murry has lived all 13 years of her life in Black Mountain, North Carolina, a vibrant multi-ethnic community with strong Cherokee roots, ample green space, and an internationally acclaimed monarch butterfly garden. (That’s not to mention the local werewolf.) But now all that is in danger, because movie star Chester Scott is looking to build a ski resort. Emma’s crush on Chester’s son, skateboarding social-media star Jeb, threatens to tear her away from helping her best friend Sophie protect the butterflies, but when Emma’s father is suspected of sending Chester death threats, it’s up to Emma to find a way to save her town, her father, the butterflies, her friendship, her crush… and solve that pesky werewolf mystery.

Writing teenagers who sound like teenagers is hard, but Laxton, drawing on her teaching experience, achieves this with aplomb. It’s easy to cringe along with Emma when she gets tongue-tied in front of her crush, worries if she’s a good enough friend, or faces her nerves over public speaking. She’s alive on the page, as is Black Mountain itself, painted in vivid detail like local soda names and a raucous town hall meeting. Less compelling is the local werewolf, who, despite some moments of convincing suspense, never proves as engaging as the depiction of a battle involving zoning laws, bite-sized celebrity environmentalism, and the real plight facing those butterflies.

As the title suggests, themes of change form the heart of the book, and any metamorphosis is going to be a bit messy. But the supernatural mystery, which involves elements of Aztec culture, and the vibrant coming-of-age drama seem at odds, with everyday passages about friendships, skateboarding, and Emma’s art journal proving the novel’s most urgent. While the narrative may at times be muddied, the richness of Black Mountain is more than worth stopping and taking a closer look.

Takeaway: An engaging novel of youthful activism, friendship, and a small town’s werewolf.


The Metamorphosis of Emma Murry elegantly portrays the tale of thirteen-year-old Emma, an aspiring artist and ardent environmentalist passionately devoted to preserving the ecological integrity of her hometown and, more specifically, its Monarch butterflies. Emma and her trusted confidante, Sophie, frequently find joy in skateboarding and stewarding the verdant greenway of Black Mountain. However, their tranquil routine is interrupted when a famous movie star aims to purchase the greenway and adjacent mountain for conversion into a ski resort, catapulting the girls into a battle to preserve their cherished environment.

Rebecca Laxton artfully intertwines the allure of small-town adventures, imbuing her narrative with a warm and inviting ambiance that is synonymous with the tranquil life of Black Mountain. The characters are intricately woven into the fabric of the town, fostering a sense of community and familiarity. The book is an invitation into a world that feels remarkably real, prompting the reader to step into its narrative sphere and be reluctant to exit. Laxton leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for potential sequels, and I can’t help but hope that she explores the possibility of further tales set in Black Mountain.

Laxton’s ability to inject her narrative with tangible elements rooted in reality offers a unique and intriguing dimension to her storytelling. She selects an actual location in North Carolina, reinforcing her story with well-documented aspects such as the Dog Man map sightings, an authentic resource readily available online. She crafts her narrative with meticulous attention to detail, incorporating interesting facets like a playful ghost in Emma’s father’s shop that develops a penchant for hiding dolls. Although these elements do not directly influence the storyline, they significantly enhance the reader’s engagement.

The prose is well-crafted, and the narrative masterfully straddles the line between heartwarming insight and palpable suspense, weaving an essential thread of environmental consciousness throughout. This book is a shining testament to Laxton’s literary prowess, making it an irresistible addition to any reading list.

Literary Titan