Enola Holmes (books 1 and 2), by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes #1: The Case of the Missing Marquess  (AR level 6.6, 6 points)

Enola Holmes #2: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (AR level 7.0, 7 points)

“Preposterous! She is a female.  Her intellect is inferior, she requires protection…” Mycroft Holmes, from Enola Holmes: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady

He didn’t!  He did! Mycroft Holmes did say that, in describing his missing 14-year old sister.  Little does he know what she is actually capable of…

Enola Holmes is the much, much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes.  Sherlock, of course, is a well-known literary character and one of the most famous detectives ever, and Mycroft is his older brother (he works for the government in an important, but never fully explained job.)  On Enola’s 14th birthday, their mother disappears.  She leaves no indication as to where she has gone, but what we do know is that she is a fiercely independent woman who has progressive ideas about women’s rights.  She leaves Enola a few birthday gifts which include a book about flowers and another, more mysterious book of ciphers and secret codes that she has created herself.

When the two brothers arrive from London to attend to the estate, they are shocked to find that Enola has taken after their mother, in that she is not a “proper” young lady.  This means she is opinionated, rides bicycles, climbs trees, and likes to wear pants!  They make a plan to send her off to boarding school where she will brought up correctly and learn how to behave and fit into society, get married, and be taken care of, probably so the brothers would not have to worry about her upbringing.  (Her father died when she was only 4 years old, so she and her mother have been on their own together for a very long time.)

Enola has other plans, however.  In the coded book that her mother made, is a series of instructions, which lead Enola to find money that has been hidden for her in various places in the house.  On the day she is to be delivered to her new boarding school, she asks the carriage driver to please stop in town so she can go say a prayer at church before she leaves.  She tells the dimwitted driver to go wait for her at the pub and have a drink.  He falls for it.  Enola has been preparing for her escape. She is well packed with supplies and has hidden her bicycle in the woods.  She simply rides away to her new life, determined to locate her mother.

Enola is quickly pulled into a mystery involving a kidnapping, but seeing as how she and her mother have both just run away from home, she sees this kidnapping from a different point of view.  After she mistakenly gives her real name, she knows that she must improve her game if she wishes to hang on to her freedom.  After solving her first case (and getting herself into much trouble), she styles herself as a “perditorian,” or a person who finds things that are lost.  She sets up an office in London, pretending to be the secretary to a new detective, all the while working on the cases by herself.  She uses disguises and codes and the money left to her by her mother to establish her new identity in the big city, while trying to avoid being caught by her brothers.  I loved watching her think and solve problems throughout both of the books I have read so far.

The second book also involves a kidnapping (or is it?), but it gets more difficult in its concepts.  The language becomes harder, using words like peripatetic, overwrought, providential, mesmerist, and proletariat.  How many middle schoolers know what toilet water actually is, and not what it seems like it should be? (Ewww, right?)  It also talks about ideas like Social Darwinism, Marxism, dual personalities, white slavery, anarchists, and subjugation.  There is much discussion about corsets,  finishing schools, the downcast poor of London, suffrage, and the social standing of women at the turn of the century.

These were very enjoyable books, but could be difficult for readers unfamiliar with this particular era and style of writing.  Enola is a great character to read as she solves problems and thinks outside the box, but her flaws and impulses remain true to a teenage personality.  She leaves nothing to chance, but still makes mistakes while she is learning how to survive on her own.  I would put this book a bit higher than the suggested AR levels and recommend it to anyone who has read some Sherlock Holmes already, who might consider themselves an Anglophile (someone who loves things from England) and enjoys reading about the Victorian/Edwardian eras because the language can seem formal and stiff for a young adult book.  I wanted Enola to have a little more of a sense of humor that would match her age, but I can see she is handling some very serious situations and laughing is not at the top of her to-do list.  Still, I came to love her, and I will definitely read the rest of this series (6 books in all.)


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