I continue my reading of the Cybils Middle Grade SF/F shortlist with this one that had totally slipped under my radar before.
Beswitched by Kate Saunders.
Flora Fox is a modern teen on her way, very grumpily, to boarding school for the first time. Her parents are remodeling their flat so that her ailing grandmother can move in with them. Flora is used to having her own way in everything, doesn’t like her grandmother, and is determined not to like boarding school. On the train there, however, she falls asleep and dreams of shadowy girls reciting a spell. When she wakes, she’s still on a train headed to boarding school – but quickly discovers that she’s switched places with another Flora Fox, this one headed to a much different boarding school in 1935. When she gets there, her roommates (roommates! The horror!) turn out to be the very girls who did the spell, which they say was to call a helpful demon from the future. Her roomates are sweet Dulcie, smart Pogo and Pete, just as resentful of Flora as she is to be there. Flora starts out very grumpy, determined to make them do all her homework for her, especially since the subjects are so different. Naturally, this doesn’t work out so well. For the first time in her life, Flora really has to pull her own weight and work hard to make and keep friends. This sounds preachy, but isn’t, as Flora is so straightforward about it. Meanwhile, doing research, the girls figure out that Flora will go back to her own time once she has figured out who she is supposed to help and how to do so. Maybe she’s supposed to help someone avoid some pitfall from future history – but modern Flora’s memory is all mixed up with Flora from the past’s memory and many things that she used to know are to blurry to recall. Her kind prefect Virginia is Jewish, and Flora knows she shouldn’t go back to her mother in Austria, but can’t remember why. Flora also manages early on to alienate Consuela Carver, a bully who also has it in for Pete. Flora finds lots about 1935 both to hate and to love, from the horrible bland food and carbolic soap on the one hand to the freedom of young teens being sent out to the beach alone all day on vacation. There are lots of details of boarding school life and the characters there. It would be very interesting to know more than a sentence about 1935 Flora’s experiences coming to the present, but perhaps that’s material for another book. I also wasn’t really surprised by the big final revelation, but the journey there was immensely enjoyable all the same. Set in an all-girls boarding school, this is aimed squarely at girls. It’s a thoughtful, character-oriented story sure to appeal to older elementary and middle school girls, a satisfying book that begs for a comfy chair and an apple.