I don’t know about you, but classic literature is like soul food for my mind. So when I find a new take on a classic I get really excited to see how someone was able to put a fresh face on an old story. But when I start reading a book without any expectations of a retelling but find myself surrounded by all of my favorites it fills my bookish heart with joy.
That is exactly what happened when I read the highly acclaimed Dotty and the Calendar House Key by Emma Warner-Reed. I was given an advanced reader copy as a member of the Hidden Gems ARC Program and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect other than the short blurb provided by Hidden Gems. But as I started reading I was blanketed by the nostalgic memories of stories like The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Mary Poppins, and even a little 101 Dalmatians (the villainous duo that Dotty is faced with reminds me of Jasper and Horace, the two oafs parading around as bad guys that inevitably get outsmarted by just about everyone).
While those memories brought back waves of my childhood, what really got this English Major giddy (excuse me, this English degree holder [insert happy dance here]), were the Dickensian allusions. The first, which it turns out was not intentional, comes as Dotty is introduced to a chimney sweep named Pip. In this case, Pip is short for Peregrine, but he says “it’s too much of a mouthful for most people,” just as Pip in Great Expectations has a difficult time saying his own name. In my subsequent interview with Warner-Reed, she admitted that she had not been conscious of that, but intentionally brought in the chimney sweeps as a reference to climbing boys (chimney sweep apprentices) in Oliver Twist.
Aside from the memories and allusions, the part that really had me hooked on this book from the beginning were the plot twists. Just when I though I had it figured out, Warner-Reed flipped the whole thing around and had me audibly gasping throughout the story. But even the parts that did happen as I predicted had me excited as I was able to celebrate my victories with a little “a-ha, I knew it!” I guess you could say I was enjoying my Watson-esque role as the reading sidekick.
This book may be geared toward a middle grade audience, but I recommend it without hesitation for anyone, especially those in need of adventure and nostalgia. Lucky for me this is only the first in a series of books about Dotty, and I can’t wait to continue my reading adventure.