Marissa Secreto ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Editor
Modern day retellings of classic tales are fairly commonplace in today’s literature, and many authors have become quite successful off of doing it. One of 2016’s top sellers was a Pride and Prejudice adaptation titled Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. In the young adult genre, Marissa Meyer has made a name for herself with her Lunar Chronicles, which is a retelling of Cinderella. However, 2016 debuted another modern retelling, but this time in young adult form, of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s everlasting Sherlock Holmes stories. With her first YA book, Brittany Cavallaro takes on the world’s most famous sleuth and reinvents the classic tales with a series that should definitely put Cavallaro’s name on the to-be-read list.
Released on March 1st, 2016 by HarperCollins Publishers, A Study in Charlotte brings a breath of fresh air to the classic Sherlock Holmes tales. Cavallaro tells the story of Jamie Watson, the great-great-great grandson of the famous Dr. John Watson. Jamie begins his year at Sherringford, a preparatory boarding school in Connecticut. There he meets Charlotte Holmes who has the same brilliant mastery of deductions and knack for solving crimes as her great grandfather, Sherlock, did. The two form a similar bond as that of their famous ancestors, but all goes awry when a student is murdered on campus and Jamie and Charlotte are the most likely suspects. The two are led on a series of mysteries that mimic the famous Doyle stories and are equally fun for fans of the original stories or for those those who enjoy the mythos of the world’s most famous detective.
Cavallaro plans to make her Charlotte Holmes books into a trilogy with the second book, The Last of August, set for release on Valentine’s Day of 2017. What makes Cavallaro so poignant as a writer is her ability to synthesize the original and beloved stories of Sherlock Holmes into something accessible and just as charming for a young adult audience. A Study in Charlotte gained critical attention and was nominated for the Milwaukee County Teen Book Award and for a Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult Fiction. With Charlotte being her first full-length novel, Cavallaro has shown a dazzling promise for a trilogy that takes on a classic tale in an original way.
Before taking on sleuths and mysteries however, Cavallaro started as a poet. She has released two collections of poetry titled Girl-King and No Girls No Telephones. Both collections feature magical elements and focus heavily on feminist themes. Through both her poetry and her novels, Cavallaro strives to bring more feminism into literature and creates more equal footing between her male and female characters. While Watson may still be a boy in her novels, the one who inherits the genius and grittiness of Holmes is, in fact, the female. Charlotte is also in no way a clean character and has not only inherited Holmes’s brains, but also his rude, arrogant attitude and his infamous drug habit. Cavallaro creates a well-rounded female character who is the hero of the story while the boy, Watson, is the so-called damsel in distress.
For fans of Sherlock Holmes, modern retellings, or feminist writings, Cavallaro has broken out as a writer who can accomplish all three. She may not have the same recognition as that of Marissa Meyer, but Cavallaro brings something special to the table that shouldn’t go unnoticed. While adaptations of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories are not uncommon, with the most popular modern adaptation being BBC’s miniseries Sherlock starring renowned British actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, Cavallaro adapts the stories for the young adult world. While gender swapping the characters has also been done before, as in CBS’s Elementary where Watson is female, it is still the male who gets to play the genius hero. For Cavallaro, it is the female who gets to shine and who gets to solve the crimes and save the day. It is refreshing for a young adult reader to have such a strong female protagonist but also have one who is rough around the edges. Readers, as they did with Dr. Watson, empathize with Jamie as he tries to navigate friendship with such a romanticized intellectual and someone who doesn’t let other people in so easily either.
By accomplishing all of this, Cavallaro deserves a spot on young adult readers’ radars and for her book to be recognized as a compelling adaptation of the famous sleuth and his companion.