September 06, 2010
So, it could just be that this wicked cool book was only overlooked by me. And I don't know how I missed it, but I know I would have loved this one when I was growing up...if only I'd known it existed.
In fact, I didn't even know until recently (in the past couple of years, maybe) that the classic Cure song "Charlotte Sometimes" was inspired by a children's fantasy/time travel novel from the late 1960s by English author Penelope Farmer. I've always loved the song, and now I know where some of its most compelling lyrics were drawn from. (And, during the entire time I was reading this book, I had to endure the song going through my head on endless repeat...but I digress.)
There's something about this book that reminds me a bit of Madeleine L'Engle—who, of course, wrote her seminal novel A Wrinkle in Time in the early 1960s. I wonder if the genre of time travel for young readers was something new and exciting then. At any rate, as someone who devoured Madeleine L'Engle's books growing up, as well as spookier fare like Lois Duncan and Joan Lowery Nixon, I'm certain I would have consumed this one with similar enthusiasm.
In Charlotte Sometimes, thirteen-year-old Charlotte Makepeace has just begun boarding school, has just started getting used to her new life away from home, her new roommates and her new bed under the window. But when she wakes up the next morning, after her first night sleeping at school, something is strange. Not right. There is a tree out the window that she swears wasn't there before. There's only one roommate in her room, where before there were three. And the nurse who comes in to wake them is wearing the most peculiar clothes—so old-fashioned.
And then the girl in the bed next to her calls her—Clare.
Where is she? WHO is she? The eerieness of this story comes not just from Charlotte's inexplicable traveling back and forth in time, but also from the author's skillful portrayal of Charlotte's identity crisis, as she continues to spend time in 1918 and begins to think of herself, in some ways, as Clare. The contrasting environments—late 1950s vs. 1918—are spare but well-drawn, and the obstacles Charlotte faces are realistic and suspenseful. The what-ifs that come up as a result of Charlotte and Clare's swap are carefully considered, too: What if one girl is better at math? What if somebody notices she's different? What if she gets stuck out of her own time?
This would be a good one for middle-grade readers who enjoy tales of suspense and the supernatural. It has held up well over the years, in my opinion—that is, it doesn't read as particularly dated, and I felt the language and the quick pacing fit in with comparable books of a similar genre. And, thanks in part to Harry Potter, I think today's readers are fairly receptive to English boarding school settings. It's got a very timeless feel. Can't believe I missed this one before, but I'm glad I found it. And there's a companion book!
The only thing I'm not sure about is the cover. My husband asked me if she was floating in the water like Ophelia or what. I had to say, no, I think it's metaphorical floating, not literal floating...
Buy Charlotte Sometimes from an independent bookstore near you!