Born and raised in Juneau, writer Katherine Rue used her childhood as fodder for a recently published book for middle school readers.
“Braving the Brontes” is the first in a series that introduces “Carly Keene, Literary Detective” – a Juneau girl whose adventurous spirit allows her to brave time travel, ghosts and Victorian England.
Any Southeast Alaskan who picks up “Braving the Brontes” will notice what footwear the protagonist is wearing on the cover – XTRATUFs.
Katherine Rue made sure the book’s New York illustrator had an idea of where 12-year-old Carly Keene is from.
“I sent him a picture of my XTRATUFs. Then I sent him a picture of a tent set up in the marsh in Alaska. ‘Here’s the kind of mountains I’m talking about. Here’s what the water and the mountains and islands look like together. And just so you know, people from Juneau don’t use umbrellas. We all make fun of them. She needs a raincoat on the front’ – that kind of thing,” Rue says lightheartedly.
Published by New York-based In This Together Media, the book begins and ends in present day Juneau. It takes an interesting turn when Carly is walking downtown with her best friend Francesca.
“They go into a bookshop they’ve never seen down a little alleyway they’ve never seen when they’re walking home from getting hot cocoa downtown. And she’s reading a first edition of ‘Jane Eyre’ and falls asleep, and wakes up in 1846,” Rue says.
Carly finds herself in the home of the Bronte sisters in England as Charlotte Bronte is trying to write the classic “Jane Eyre.” Carly is stuck there until she can solve a mystery involving the literary family.
Rue mirrored the fictional Carly after herself as a young girl – someone who read a lot of books, spent a lot of time outdoors and romanticized the past. She says it was important to have Carly be an adventurous, independent Alaskan girl.
“Challenges that Carly faces are things that she feels better prepared to deal with because she is Alaskan, like how they approach situations, like a chamber pot,” Rue says.
“Braving the Brontes” is geared for kids ages 9 to 14. Rue warns there is some challenging vocabulary that parents may need to decipher. The book also references many other great works of literature besides those written by the Bronte sisters. But Rue doesn’t expect her readers to have read “Jane Eyre” or to know who the Bronte sisters are.
“The goal with this was to sort of say, ‘Hey, you’ve probably read ‘Anne of Green Gables’ or the Narnia books, ‘Harry Potter’ and you’re looking for something else to read. Here’s what’s coming up and it’s really fun.’ Sort of introduce readers to the possibilities that they’re going to get to in a few years,” Rue says.
In the next book of the series, Carly and best friend Francesca find themselves in 1862 during the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg where Louisa May Alcott is a nurse.
Writing the series allows Rue to explore a childhood fantasy. She was always waiting for her turn to walk through the wardrobe into Narnia. She says she’s still waiting.