Title: Always Emily
Author: Michaela MacColl
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: 4-8-14
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Source: ARC kindly provided by publisher in exchange for honest review
Emily and Charlotte Brontë are about as opposite as two sisters can be. Charlotte is practical and cautious; Emily is headstrong and imaginative. But they do have one thing in common: a love of writing. This shared passion will lead them to be two of the first published female novelists and authors of several enduring works of classic literature. But they’re not there yet. First, they have to figure out if there is a connection between a string of local burglaries, rumors that a neighbor’s death may not have been accidental, and the appearance on the moors of a mysterious and handsome stranger. The girls have a lot of knots to untangle— before someone else gets killed.
Always Emily was a very interesting read. Wuthering Heights is one of my all-time favorite books, and I love Gothic literature, although I’ve never read Jane Eyre. Reading this book, I kind of wished that I’d read Jane Eyre, because I felt like there might’ve been subtle references to it that I wasn’t able to appreciate as much without having previously read it. But, that being said, reading either Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre is certainly not a requirement for reading Always Emily, especially because I think that this book was written partially to get YA readers more interested in reading those amazing books. Although I do think that there’s definitely a certain level of enjoyment to be had in reading this book that comes from having already experienced Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyrethat you just can’t get having not yet read them.
While this book isn’t a retelling, I feel like MacColl did a great job capturing the essence of both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and the personalities of the sisters, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, in this novel. The best part of this book was watching those two characters interact. It was such a perfect representation of exactly how I’ve always imagined they were like in real life. To have that fantasy brought to life was so cool. MacColl was also able to capture the dark, romantic Gothic atmosphere of the moors in this book. I extremely enjoyed reading the scenes in which Emily was outside enjoying the moors outside her family’s home; those were such magical passages.
But, unfortunately, there were also things about this book that I didn’t like. First of all, there was a lot of showing-not-telling that I noticed. For example, people kept commenting on how Emily’s and Charlotte’s brother Branwell has been acting strangely, but we never really see him acting that strangely. Or how people kept noticing things about previous moments in the book that they didn’t talk about at the time. It’s hard not to go into detail about this without spoilers, but I did note quite a few instances of this happening.
Another problem I had with this book was the mystery aspect of it. First of all, it wasn’t really a mystery at all. The story has aspects of a mystery novel, but there is never a surprise at the end about what’s been going on. The reader knows almost everything about what’s happening from the very beginning, and we just have to wait for the characters to catch up and then act on their knowledge. And the whole novel read a bit too much like a Scooby-Doo episode for me. At the end of the book, I kept expecting Mr. Heaton to say something like: “…and I would’ve gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!” The whole thing just felt very episodic — like we were getting a glimpse of only one small story of Emily and Charlotte’s life together, which takes place over a couple of weeks, vs. a story that encompassed more of their relationship and lives.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was very well written and perfectly captured the essences of the Gothic time period, Emily’s and Charlotte’s personalities, and their books. I would highly recommend this book to any fan of the Brontës or to teens/adult YA readers who are thinking of reading one of their classics but want a little intro into what they should expect.