In a middle-grade fantasy reminiscent of beloved tales from Edward Eager and Pamela Dean, the imaginary realms of the Brontë juvenilia come to wondrous life.
“Once, four children called Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell lived all together in a village called Haworth”—but the never-surnamed protagonists don’t remain in their Yorkshire moors for long. Instead of escorting the two oldest girls to their dreaded School, the siblings are whisked off to Glass Town, where, as Charlotte dryly observes, “we’re only in an insane, upside-down world populated by our toys, our stories, and Napoleon riding on a giant chicken on fire.” Valente seizes this irresistible premise and careens off merrily, in gorgeous, coruscating prose spangled with groanworthy puns, extravagant metaphors, whimsical imagery, literary nods, and historical references. Beyond the sly allusions, sufficient to delight the most devoted Brontë-phile, it is the vivid, achingly real, personalities—brilliant, bossy Charlotte; wild, passionate Emily; gentle, perceptive Anne; and bullying, insecure Branwell—that compel attention. Unfolding against a background of loss and fear, their madcap fairy-tale adventures deepen into a heartbreaking keen of brutality and grief, at the last transposing into an exhilarating, bittersweet paean to identity, agency, and (inevitably) the power of storytelling. (Illustrations not seen.)
An absolute must for fans, of course; but even readers who’ve never heard of Heathcliff will be captivated from the first page to the last. (Fantasy. 10-adult)