A while back, a page at my library came asking for one of the New York Review Children’s Collection books. I don’t remember what it was any more – we didn’t have it, I filled in a purchase request, the usual. But I remembered that the NYR had sent me another book, which was still in my TBR pile on my desk. I offered to loan it to her while she was waiting for her purchase request to come through.
That was Lexi, and she loved it. She wrote me a thoughtful note about it. I loaned her another book; she wrote me a note about why she didn’t love it as much. In between, she was promoted to being a clerk and I read Charlotte Sometimes, which I enjoyed, but which did not strike for me as it seemed to for Lexi that note of the perfect book at the perfect time. And so it was that I invited Lexi to review that first book that she loved so much for me.
Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. New York Review Children’s Collection, 2017. (reissue, originally published 1969)
On the Sunday after Charlotte Makepeace arrives at boarding school, she wakes up to find that her surroundings have completely changed and that her roommate refers to her as “Clare” instead of “Charlotte.” On Monday, Charlotte finds herself back in familiar surroundings, and she realizes that she had traveled back in time to 1918. Charlotte adjusts to the rhythm of waking up in a different time every other morning and meeting people’s expectations in the two different eras. She and her counterpart, Clare, keep a mutual diary in the two separate eras in order to communicate important information about homework and friendship, so that they can act consistently without alerting the whole school of their time travel. As Charlotte becomes weary with time travel, she forgets details in each of the eras and starts making mistakes that other people notice and question in her homework and relationships.
Charlotte is not a very dynamic character; she does not have emotional highs and lows, but merely fluctuates between varying states of displacement and anxiety. This gives the reader to emotionally interact with a different personality type of protagonist. The author creates a strongly descriptive setting, especially of the garden that serves as a sort of mental oasis between the two eras, and helps the reader to stay afloat in the details of time travel and two different historical periods. While the protagonist is thirteen years old, the novel has an older, sadder, depressive, surreal vibe to it. Especially as the novel descends to the seance, it becomes heavy with the sorrow of the elderly host family and Charlotte’s own dark premonitions. The novel may be more appropriate for high school readers and for fans of Lucy M. Boston.