This is the kind of book I would never have had bought for me when I was a kid. Here’s why:
1) It has the nerve to be a “take off” of a masterpiece of English literature (!).
2) It’s not written by a Renowned Children’s Author (or by a Brit, which would automatically lend it some merit.).
3) It seems unlikely to teach worthy, lasting life lessons (or Latin, for that matter).
(Dad… I hope you’re not reading this).
Joking aside, my Dad was the book-buying man when I was a kid, and he bought me stacks of books very regularly, with great generosity. The upside of this is that I became a complete bookworm (thanks Dad). The catch was that I was only given books of a certain sort (very British, very classic, very historical, very profound). So it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that before I was a teenager, I was given Conan Doyle’s The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes Volume I. And I read it… well… most of it.
Not only did I read it. I loved it. (How many 12 year olds have read The Sign of the Four because they wanted to?) Even now, after a whole load of reading, Holmes remains one of my most beloved fictional characters. So it was with serious trepidation, and fighting some deep-seated prejudice about what books are “worthy”, that I opened Nancy Springer’s first Enola Holmes Mystery.
Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, but she has had hardly any contact with her brothers throughout her childhood. The story begins when Enola’s mother disappears on the evening of Enola’s fourteenth birthday, bringing Sherlock and Mycroft to Ferndell Hall, the family estate, to investigate this mystery. A few secrets are unearthed early on, and the Holmes brothers decide that the best place for their young sister is a finishing school. Enola chooses to escape to London by bicycle, dressed as a widow to evade her brother’s detection. She seeks her mother, and soon finds herself caught up in another disappearance. With Sherlock and some nasties on her trail, Enola needs every bit of her pluck, wit and level-headedness if she is to solve these two mysteries and make her own way in the world.
This book is a delight. Enola is a fiesty, intelligent and vulnerable character. I like how she sees things nobody else does, and slowly comes to trust her own instinct and skill. She’s a “go-to-it” sort of girl. This makes her a character that girls today will identify with. In fact, Enola feels rather modern in spite of being very carefully and convincingly situated in the 19th century. The plot ticks along with a few surprises and some remarkable descriptive passages. Try this:
“All around me towered a man-made wilderness, buildings taller and more forbidding than any trees that ever were. My brothers lived here? In this – this grotesque brick-and-stone parody of any world I had ever known? With so many chimney-pots and roof-peaks looming dark against a lurid, vaporous orange sky? Lead-coloured clouds hung low while the setting sun oozed molten light between them; the Gothic towers of the city stood festive yet foreboding against the glowering sky, like candles on the Devil’s birthday cake.”
Yes! I think even Dad would approve. My only complaint? It would have been nice to have a little more Sherlock in the story. His appearance was all too brief. So, what I hope for in the next two books in the series? More Sherlock please. He deserves a greater presence. More than anything else, I just want more Enola. If Enola makes a few kids curious about the adventures of her famous brother, I would be very pleased indeed.
Read Enola, and then read this:
Or the other way around, I suppose. Worked for me.
A few other reviews: