A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Always Emily drapes layers of fictional melodrama over the real biographies of the Brontë family. It's an entertaining (though far-fetched) mystery tale with spirited heroines. Women's secondary status in the Brontë sisters' day gets much attention: There are intimations of domestic abuse, Charlotte frets about the girls' ability to support themselves, and a woman endures decades of suffering after bearing a child out of wedlock. Illness haunts the Brontë family, striking down two of the sisters. The Freemasons are presented as a menacing organization, though the author clarifies in a note at the book's end that the real nature of the fraternity is benign.
What's the story?
Practical, proper Charlotte Brontë always seems to be at odds with her heedless sister, Emily. The two clash at school, where Emily's a reluctant student and Charlotte an uninspired teacher. Back home, they fare little better -- and their desultory, louche brother isn’t helping matters. The friction between them soon takes a back seat to the strange happenings on the moors: a break-in at the Brontë home, the suspicious death of a neighbor, a mysterious woman, a handsome stranger, and a secret fraternity. The very traits that make the sisters so different prove a perfect pairing as the Brontës embark on a dangerous adventure in the interest of justice and fairness.
Is it any good?
Michaela MacColl roots ALWAYS EMILY in the true story of the Brontë family, and the result will either delight or irritate readers who treasure Emily and Charlotte Brontë's work. MacColl imagines the sisters as 19th-century Nancy Drews, caught up in intrigue by chance and solving the mystery with pluck and determination. For readers who have yet to encounter Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, the novel may provide some insight into how the authors' lives shaped their novels … or it may muddy their understanding of the real Brontë sisters.
Biographical concerns aside, it's an enjoyable story with appealing heroines. The denouement is hardly revelatory, but getting there is so absorbing it almost doesn't matter.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the mixture of historical fact and fiction. How do you feel about blending real events with made-up ones? Does this story influence how you view the Brontë sisters, or their writing?
In what ways are Charlotte and Emily particularly unusual for the time and place they lived?
How do your real-life experiences influence your fictional writing?
- Author: Michaela MacColl
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Brothers and sisters, Great girl role models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Chronicle Books
- Publication date: April 8, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 282
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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