Emily and Charlotte Go Sleuthing

Always Emily, by Michaela MacColl (Chronicle Books), novel, 288 pages, listed by publisher as for ages 12 and up

Always Emily is another book in the genre of literary figures, in this case Emily and Charlotte Brönte, turned detectives. Although it’s being marketed as a YA novel, this book offers fun reading for any fan of the Brönte sisters’ work.

The usual (though not necessarily inaccurate) characterizations are in play here: Emily is dreamy, unconcerned with others’ opinions, determined to spend as much time as she can wandering the moors, while Charlotte frets about propriety and attempts to direct the lives of others in the household. Their brother Branwell appears, too, playing an unwitting role in the case as he fritters away time and money drinking with friends of dubious loyalty. Charlotte and Emily squabble, but they also have moments when they realize their value to each other. Charlotte can be brave when necessary; Emily is capable of compromising her gruff individualism at necessary moments.

The book has elements one would find in a Brönte novel: a woman unjustly diagnosed as mad; a mysterious, handsome hero who’s been denied his birthright; self-righteous industrial barons. In fact, each chapter opens with quotations from the work of the Brönte sisters, which set the tone for each new stage in the action.

This book offers no great revelations, but it’s a fun read, and one could hope for more in the same vein—including, perhaps, some stories in which Anne also plays a role. Given the sisters’ short lives, this concept will have its limits as a series, but that doesn’t mean another volume or two wouldn’t be enjoyable. And we can hope that this volume will lead a new generation of readers to the works of the Brönte sisters themselves.

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