Carly Keene, Literary Detective: Braving the Brontes

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Carly Keene, Literary Detective: Braving the Brontes Book Poster Image
Mysterious time-travel story for adventurous book lovers.

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the lives of the Bronte sisters and generally about ways of life in England in the mid-19th century, including details on diet, medicine, transportation, gender roles, and child rearing. They'll also become familiar with a few plot elements (although no spoilers) and characters in the Brontes' most famous novels -- Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey -- and the ways in which those classic books were informed by the authors' lives. The novel includes an Author's Note that explains which parts of Carly's adventure are based on real historical events and where Katherine Rue took liberties to streamline her plot.

Positive Messages

Speak -- and write -- from your heart, and everything will get better.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Carly's a fish out of water in the Brontes' time, but the sisters teach her patience, respect, and confidence in her ability to learn and solve problems.


Carly is grabbed by Bramwell, and he and Mr. Bronte brandish pistols at different points. Charlotte loses her temper and strikes Carly after Carly pries into Charlotte's personal business. When Carly is ill with a fever, the attending doctor bleeds her by cutting her wrist, as was the medical custom during the mid-19th century, when most of the action takes place.


Carly fantasizes about a romantic relationship between Charlotte and Mr. Nicholl, but there's no sexual content.


Carly's use of slang shocks her Victorian hosts, but her choices of words will seem normal to modern families.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The Bronte sisters' brother, Bramwell, drinks wine excessively and is addicted to the opiate laudanum.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Katherine Rue's Carly Keene Literary Detective: Braving the Brontes is a time-travel adventure for book lovers. Carly's experiences in 19th-century England teach her about books and writing and about ways of life during the lifetime of authors Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre) and her sister Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights). This novel includes suspenseful situations and a bit of violence: Carly is struck by her teacher, Charlotte, and grabbed and briefly restrained by Charlotte's drunk, opium-addicted brother, Bramwell. There's also a scene in which Carly is very ill, and a Victorian-era doctor bleeds her. However, these scenes, similar to the ones in which Carly is reprimanded for asking personal questions or using slang, are meant to illustrate the differences between modern-day attitudes and Victorian ones.

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What's the story?

CARLY KEENE LITERARY DETECTIVE: BRAVING THE BRONTES is the first in a planned series of Carly adventures in literary worlds. Carly's a book-loving, imaginative 12-year-old who loves inventing fantasy adventure scenarios with her best friend, Francesca. While on a camping trip in her native Alaska, Carly begins to get the feeling she's being watched. Days later, she and Francesca visit a bookshop, where an old bookseller lets Carly hold a first edition of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel Jane Eyre. Carly curls up in a chair to examine the book and dozes off. When she awakes, she discovers she's been transported back to 19th-century England, and Charlotte Bronte is her governess while her parents are supposedly traveling to India. Carly struggles to fit in to the Victorian era -- where her usual attitudes and ways of speaking are shocking -- and tries to figure out how she can return home. A ghost guide lets her know what tasks she must complete to get back to where she belongs.

Is it any good?

Carly Keene Literary Detective: Braving the Brontes will appeal to young readers with literary tastes. Not only will this suspenseful story engage readers in its own right, it also will inspire tweens to read the Brontes' classic novels and to examine the differences in gender roles, attitudes, and ways of life between the 19th century and today.

Literary adults will pick up on some of the Jane Eyre plot hints in the text, but readers don't need to have read the Brontes to understand what happens to Carly or to appreciate what she learns about the differences between her culture and that of the famous authors. Illustrations by Nick Guarracino help move things along. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about time-travel books. Have you read others? What are some common elements and lessons of this type of adventure?

  • What does Carly learn about the ways in which girls and women were treated during the Victorian era versus how they're treated today? 

  • Do you think Carly's adventure is real?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science fiction and strong female characters

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