Jan 24, 2008

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer and February Bookworms Carnival

Charlotte Sometimes is the story of Charlotte Makepeace, a thirteen year old girl who, after her first night at boarding school, wakes up in a completely different place. Or rather, in a place that looks completely different at first. Slowly she realizes that she is in fact in the same room where she went to sleep the night before. Only a few things about it—things that couldn’t possible change overnight—have changed. For example, outside her window, where there used to be a building, there is now a huge cedar tree.

Bit by bit, Charlotte realizes that she is still at boarding school, only she was transported back in time forty years, and everyone seems to think she is a girl named Clare. And she also realizes that the girl named Clare was transported forty years to the future, and everyone is assuming she is Charlotte…

My reason for having picked up this book is an unusual one. I love The Cure, and they named a song after this novel. The song and its video (also inspired by the novel) have a very mysterious mood that always intrigued me, so this has been on my to read list for something like eight years. I’m very glad that the YA Challenge gave me the motivation I needed to read it at last.

Charlotte Sometimes does have an intriguing and mysterious mood that I really liked, especially in the first few chapters. But I loved it for more reasons than that. First of all, in many ways this is a World War I novel. Charlotte is transported back in time to the time of the war, and although she is relatively safe at boarding school, the war affects her new life in many ways. The presence of the war is subtle, but impossible to ignore. It’s always in the background, like an ever lurking shadow. The girl Charlotte is taken for, Clare, and her little sister, Emily, have their father fighting in the war. So do many of the other girls at the school. And the family that Charlotte and Emily stay with for some time had their son killed in the war.

I haven’t come across many fictional portraits of World War I. I’m sure there are many novels about it, but I just haven’t read any of them yet. I really liked how the topic of the War was dealt with in this book. The story shows how huge the gap is between the romanticized idea of a glorious war that lured so many young men, and the reality of dirt, mud, blood, and constant, merciless death. It also shows how the wounds of the war affect even those that are not directly involved in it, and how these wounds stay even after the conflict ends, some being far too deep to ever properly heal.

But the war is not everything this story is about. It’s also about identity, about what makes us who we are, about how much the way others see us affects us. When Charlotte finds herself trapped in the past, without anyone to confide in at first, without anyone who treats her as Charlotte rather than as Clare, she starts to feel as though her identity is slipping away from her. But as time passes, she begins to rediscover and redefine herself.

Another thing I really liked was the language—the book is beautifully written, in a language that is just old-fashioned enough to be charming, but not enough to feel stuffy or overly dated.

Also, the ending was great, but naturally I won’t give it away.

I really enjoyed this book. The story is haunting and touching and it will surely stay with me for a long time. I can see why it became a classic.

The February Bookworms Carnival is going to be hosted by Renay at The Book Ninja. The theme is: The Geography of Make-Believe: A Fantastic Voyage through the Magical, Mythical and Mystical. I know that a lot of you are readers of speculative fiction, so I’m sure you all have posts you could submit. The deadline is the 8th of February. Also, if you spread the word about the Carnival in your blogs, both Renay and Dewey will enter your name for a book draw! The winners get to pick whichever book they want. For more details, click here and here.


  1. That sounds like a good book. I'm putting it on my TBR. Is it YA fiction? or adult?

  2. This one sounds realy good. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. This book sounds great. I'll have to add it to my wishlist. Nymeth, you are not helping to lessen my pile at all. ;P Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. I've never heard of this one but I love the premise. It's going on the list!

  5. You sold me with The Cure reference! I'll check out the video later tonight at home. I can see that this would be one that both Mary and I would really enjoy. This may be one of my library checkouts this year. Great review, you have me excited about it.

  6. How can it be I've never even heard of this one?!! It sounds wonderful!

  7. Great review!

  8. It seems like you only read good books! I'm much more attracted (if that's the right word...maybe drawn is better?)to WWI than WWII, and I have this weird fascination with boarding schools. So this one is right up my alley.

  9. Jeane: It's YA. It's a great book, I hope you enjoy it!

    Susan: You're welcome :)

    Melody: Sorry :P I hope you enjoy this one when you get to it!

    Iliana: It's such a good book. I hope you enjoy it!

    Carl: I hope you find it at the library. I do think you'd really enjoy it!

    Debi: It seems to be an obscure sort of classic. This one would be great for both you and Annie!

    Stephanie: Thank you :)

    Eva: Then you would most definite enjoy this one! I've been really lucky with my book picks so far this year. I hope my luck continues!

  10. I've always loved this book. I must have first read it bout thirty years ago and it still stands up today. If you want another interesting YA take on WWI try Theresa Breslin's 'Remembrance'.

  11. That sounds like a really intersting book. I really like The Cure as well, very atmospheric. Will keep a look out for it and will have a look at the bookworms carnival stuff as it sounds pretty interesting.

  12. Time travel! I'm sold! I knew of the Cure song, but I had no idea it was a book allusion. However! Did you know that their song Killing an Arab is based on Camus' L'Etranger? I only found that out when I was doing some research in preparation for teaching L'Etranger a few years ago. Even though I'd heard the song and read the book, I just didn't make any connection.

  13. Table Talk: Thanks for the recommendation! I'm going to look for that one.

    Rhinoa: I think you'd like this one. And you've been reading lots of great books lately that would fit the Carnival!

    Dewey: Now that you mention it I think I'd read that somewhere, but I had forgotten all about it. But yeah, when I first heard about it, I knew the song, I'd read the book, but I hadn't made the connection either.

  14. This does sound like a good book. Currently I'm reading Archy the Flying Dolphin & the Vampire's Curse.
    My sister asked me to read this with her so we both bought the book and we're kind of making our own YA challenge.
    It's really fun and I'm happy to be sharing it with my sister.
    The kids in her school are learning lots from us because I hear they are now reading in pairs with their brothers or sisters.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.