Two Recent Young Adult Novels: One Modern Day, One 18th Century, Same Sense of Adventure

Aug 11, 2017

The leading characters of two recent young adult novels live their lives in different eras, but one gets the feeling that if they were to meet somehow, they’d feel a kinship.  That was certainly the case with their authors, who became fast friends and undertook a book tour together.

Former Milwaukeean Brittany Cavallaro’s latest mystery novel is the second in her series that updates the Holmes and Watson story. The Last of August brings back Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson, each modern-day descendants of the famed Arthur Conan Doyle investigators. 

Mackenzi Lee’s latest book is called The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue and features a rogueish teenager’s harrowing adventures across the Europe during the 18th Century equivalent of a gap year between schooling and adulthood.  

"Both of our books are secretly a romp, they're both adventure stories," says Cavallaro.  Lee chimes in, "you [Cavallaro] write these sort of self-aware trope-y mysteries, and mine is a very self-aware, trope-y adventure novel."

Humor and wit play a central role in their respective novels.

Cavallaro says, "I really have this tendency to want to go for the meta joke every single time. My main characters are the great-great-great grandchildren of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, so they're aware of their ancestry. It's something I definitely have to reign in a little bit. Winks are always fun, but if you're winking too much then you look like you have something horrible in your eye." 

They both agree the humor has to stay rooted in the characters. Lee says of her main character, Monty, "humor is his coping mechanism [and] way of avoiding dealing with the real and difficult things in his life. So the humor is integral to who he is and also to the arc of the book."

'Writing humor is all about revising," she continues. "It's like comic timing in a play. You have to land it at just the right minute with the right cadence and the right amount of words in a sentence. The only way to write characters that are funnier than you is to revise them over and over again."