A Study in Charlotte

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
A Study in Charlotte Book Poster Image
Drugs, rape, murder in tense, edgy Holmes-Watson update.

Parents say

Not yet rated

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

From the title (a play on A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes novel) onward, A Study in Charlotte is steeped in references to the original Holmes canon, which are often essential to the plot. Readers unfamiliar with those stories will want to catch up; Holmes fans will have fun spotting scenes from the original stories as they occur. Like her famous ancestor, Charlotte is an accomplished violin player, and Jamie and the reader learn a bit about classical music from her repertoire.

Positive messages

Strong messages of friendship -- including giving friends space when they need it -- as well as standing up to bullies. Also, finding your own path despite toxic family legacies.

Positive role models & representations

Jamie, the narrator for much of the story, is a good guy who tries to do the right thing even in difficult circumstances (e.g., he's not thrilled about his forced reunion with his estranged father but doesn't think it's right to take it out on his small stepbrothers because they're just little kids). Like generations of his family, he suffers from a rage disorder but tries not to let it run his life. Charlotte, born to a famously brilliant, dysfunctional dynasty, is bitter, fierce, and drug-addled as the story begins. But, while it's strongly suggested that she leads Jamie around by the nose more than he realizes, his friendship -- the first she's experienced -- shows her that there might be other options. Both teens are clever and creative problem-solvers. Charlotte's roommate, Lena, is part rich dunce and part quick-thinking BFF. Adults are a mixed bag, from Jamie's flawed-but-trying dad to Charlotte's brother, who can apparently disappear people at will, and school personnel who may not be quite what they appear.


As the story begins, Jamie gets in a fistfight with a classmate who claims to have had sex with Charlotte (he did, but it was a rape, as she was drugged at the time and didn't consent); the classmate quickly turns up murdered in a scene obviously contrived by the culprit to mimic "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," a Sherlock Homes story, and Jamie and Charlotte become the prime suspects -- as well as targets for the true murderer. Later, a young girl is assaulted and left for dead, and a teen is poisoned. An adult character runs a spy agency and seems to be able to make inconvenient people disappear.


There's a strong boarding-school-full-of-hormonal-teens vibe to the story, including some apparent same-sex romance, but no graphic detail. Charlotte's onetime crush on her tutor has far-reaching effects; so does a past broken engagement of two adult characters. Jamie's parents are divorced; over the course of the story, he develops a new relationship with his estranged father and the dad's new family. He also refers to past girlfriends who dumped him and hoped-for girlfriends who ignored him.


Plentiful crude language and swear words, including "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "dickhead," "wanker," "damn."


Occasional mentions of real products, Toyota RAV4 and the band Nirvana, for scene setting. The epilogue sets the scene for the next book in the series.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Charlotte shares her family's weakness for hard drugs, and Jamie follows his own family tradition, trying to keep Charlotte away from harmful substances. She talks about having done OxyContin, as well as cocaine, morphine, and other drugs, and sometimes appears to be in a drugged state; as the story progresses she switches to cigarettes to placate Jamie. Teenage students get drunk and gamble at regular poker parties.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Study in Charlotte, the first installment in a planned trilogy, features the 16-year-old descendants of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a lurid boarding-school mystery set in Connecticut, with plenty of drugs, alcohol, gambling, and violence, including rape and murder. Brilliant, troubled Charlotte Holmes has been solving high-profile mysteries since childhood -- and dabbling in hard drugs just as long. Reluctant rugby star Jamie Watson struggles to be a good friend and keep her out of trouble but has issues of his own, from a rage problem to an estranged father. Typically for dark-side-of-boarding-school tales, there's plenty of drinking, drugging, and crude language, including "f--k," "s--t," "ass," and "wanker," as Charlotte and Jamie try to find the killer who's trying to frame them -- or actually kill them.

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written byInfamousVoiceofLogic June 8, 2017

Amazing Book

I can't give this book more glowing praise. I read it at 13 and I'm not even slightly scarred. It had its violence but it's not like the author t... Continue reading

What's the story?

As far as 16-year-old Jamie Watson is concerned, the only good thing about being shipped off to a posh boarding school in Connecticut is he'll finally meet Charlotte Holmes, who's also there. Relations between their families have been dicey since Sherlock and Dr. Watson's lifetimes, but Jamie has always been thrilled by her crime-solving exploits and secretly dreamed of being her sidekick on wild adventures. The reality turns out to be quite a bit more complicated: Charlotte is brilliant, beautiful, bitter, and druggy, and Jamie is soon under her spell. When her recent rapist turns up murdered in a scene straight out of "The Speckled Band," she and Jamie realize that someone's trying to frame them -- or worse. But who, and why?

Is it any good?

The latest page-turning entry in the Holmes-and-Watson spin-off genre finds their present-day teen descendants trying to stay alive and out of jail as an unknown murderer stalks their boarding school. A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE (playing on the title of the first Sherlock Holmes tale) offers an edgy, complicated, snarky title character in 16-year-old Charlotte Holmes; a relatable, engaging narrator and friend in Jamie Watson; and a boarding-school setting full of hearty-partying rich kids and mysterious killers. There's also a bit of James Bond-style international intrigue, as it soon becomes clear that powerful hidden forces lurk just out of sight. Some of the darker elements (drugs, rape, murder, and people's lives being ruined) demand a mature reader, but the odd, compelling friendship of the two teens and the frequent plot twists keep things interesting.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson stories, and why people keep making up more of them. How does this one compare with others you've read or seen?

  • What do you think of stories that take characters from other tales and put them in new situations? Do you think this is interesting, or do you think people should make up their own characters?

  • What food would you really miss if you moved somewhere it wasn't available?

Book details

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