Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Always Emily

Always Emily

Michaela MacColl
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Chronicle Books , 2014   ISBN: 978-1452111742

Charlotte Bronte knows all too well how uncertain life can be; disaster can be waiting around the very next corner. Charlotte’s mother died very young, as did her two older sisters; illness struck them down without warning. Charlotte’s father, the Reverend Bronte, is not a young man, and he is the sole provider for Charlotte, her sisters Emily and Anne, and her brother Branwell. When Revered Bronte dies, the young Brontes will lose their income and their home, and they will be quite destitute. Charlotte is therefore determined to find a paying occupation so that she can provide for herself should the need arise.

Charlotte has managed to get a position for herself in the boarding school where she, not that long ago, was a student. She has arranged that part of her pay will be used to ensure that seventeen year old Emily will get an education so that she might also become a teacher who can earn a living. The problem is that Emily is not in the least interested in attending school and is completely ungrateful for the efforts that Charlotte has made on her behalf. Emily is sure that she will hate school and that it will not suit her at all.

It turns out that she is right. Emily is not at the school long before she becomes dangerously ill and has to go back to her home and the beloved moors that she loves to explore. Soon after she gets home, old Mr. Heaton of Ponden Hall dies. His son Master Robert will be managing the family mills and fortunes from now on. More than a few people are whispering about the fact that old Mr. Heaton’s death occurred at a very convenient time for Master Robert, who is in need of funds.

Master Robert and the Reverend Bronte are not getting along these days because Reverend Bronte insists on condemning the mills owners from the pulpit for their avaricious ways. He abhors the way in which the businessmen put their profits before the needs of the men who work for them.

After someone attempts to break into the Bronte home, Aunt B decides that she will join Anne, who is in Scarborough. Emily is delighted, as this means that she will have a lot more freedom, and will not have to account for her whereabouts when she goes to explore the moors. She is eager to this as soon as possible as she has been trapped indoors for so long due to her illness. On her very first walk she encounters a camp site and a dog that has been left there tied up. The poor creature is clearly thirst and its collar is cutting into its neck. Being an avid animal-lover, Emily unties the dog and decides to adopt it at once.

Meanwhile, all is not going well for Charlotte with her job and she is asked to take a leave of absence from for a few days. She sets off for home in a carriage and is nearly there when a woman appears out of nowhere. The carriage stops and Charlotte tries to comfort the woman, who is distraught and has restraint marks on her wrists. Then Master Robert Heaton arrives on the scene claiming that the woman is a “dependent” of his family, a woman who is sadly “not right in the head.” Master Robert takes the poor woman away, which concerns Charlotte.

When Emily goes back to the campsite she is accosted by a man, the owner of the dog. She finds out that he is watching Ponden Hall, and that they met many years ago when they were children. Apparently the young man, Harry, has come back to Ponden Hall to find out news of his mother. She was the daughter of old Mr. Heaton. He treated her terribly and with great cruelty when she married an unsuitable man and had a child by him. Harry has no idea if his mother is even alive. If she is, he plans on taking her far away from Yorkshire so that they can build a new together somewhere else.

Without really meaning to, first Emily, and then Charlotte, get involved in Harry’s quest to save his mother. Little do they know that doing so will put their father and brother in grave danger, and that dark secrets that lie just below the surface in their little town will be exposed.

This remarkable novel takes us into the lives of Charlotte and Emily Bronte, and as the narrative unfolds we see how the sisters struggle to understand one another, often clashing because their personalities are so different. The interesting thing is that both willful and wild Emily, and controlled and controlling Charlotte, have a strong sense of right and wrong and they cannot help getting involved when they discover that others are in trouble. They have to help Harry find his mother, and they have to help their own brother, whose self-destructive behavior is completely out of control. They interfere, and in the process end up having a truly remarkable, and dangerous, adventure.