Emil's brother isn't dead. Just gone. It's his mom who's dead, and his dad who's checked out completely. Emil's alone. Not in a teary-eyed, starving-orphan way. Just alone. As in: nobody to talk to, nothing to do.
Then he finds the key. Not a metaphorical the solution to loneliness was within me all along! key. No, a real key. A key that opens every single door in the elite prep school that Emil's forced to attend. Suddenly, Emil doesn't mind so much the he's a nonentities are much harder to pin down.
Soon, he's sneaking into the school at night to explore -- and falling for a girl who sneaks in for reasons of her own. The keeper of the key is supposed to be legendary but Emil will settle for barely coherent. He's spent a whole of his life dealing with disappearances. Now he has to see what it takes to make things stay.
I wanted Emil to DO more. I realize that this wasn’t central to the story. That the bigger issue was figuring out who he was now that his life was flipped upside down. And discovering who the people in his life really were. Beautiful coming of age and age of discovery story (I don’t think those 2 concepts are the same). Emil’s just an average kid dealing with what is, sadly (because of what it says about our society), an average existence. That’s what makes him so attractive as a character—he’s not any more special than you or I, and he’s dealing with the terms life has given him, the best way he knows how when he’s got little to direct him.
This work is licensed by Jennifer Turney under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.