Local author’s new novel reimagines a classic

While taking literature classes through high school, many of us had to read canon staples from the likes of Dickens and Steinbeck, despite how jarring it can seem to approach something like “Great Expectations” when you’re fourteen years old. Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights“– a title which my friends keep telling me to pronounce differently, for some reason — is one such classic.

And now, 170 years later, its memorable tale of love and human spirit is once again being synthesized with a high school setting, though in a much more enjoyable manner; this time, Lawrence author Mary O’Connell has remixed the classic, retelling it with a cast of modern day teenagers and adding her own twists.

The young adult novel “Dear Reader” — pronounced as it looks, like most books — follows seventeen year old Flannery Fields as she searches for her AP English teacher who has suddenly and mysteriously gone missing in New York. Flannery doesn’t quite fit in with her peers, instead idolizing the absent Miss Sweeney, giving her the impetus to go on such a quest. O’Connell injects a turn of magical realism with Miss Sweeney’s personal copy of “Wuthering Heights,” which acts as a real-time diary, giving Flannery clues about her disappearance.

While in New York, the uncannily British and charming Heath appears. To Flannery, he is both alluring and odd. She begins to wonder if he might actually be a manifestation of the similarly-named “Wuthering Heights” character. The rest of the novel holds even more surprises, weaving together threads of mystery, magical realism, and a bit of romance as Flannery finds her way.

For those who’ve never read “Wuthering Heights,” O’Connell’s take is a modern and more accessible opportunity. For readers who are already fans of the classic, it’s another incarnation, ripe for comparison and reflection.

We’re fortunate to have the author visiting LPL on Tuesday, May 30th at 7:00 PM in the library auditorium, where she’ll read from and share her thoughts about “Dear Reader.”

— Eli Hoelscher is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.