When Charlotte goes away to boarding school for the first time, she’s very excited to get the bed with the particularly pretty wheels right next to the window. When she wakes up, though, the view from the window looks different, and people are calling her Clare! She discovers she’s traveled back in time to the same bed in the same boarding school, but during World War I. The next morning, though, she wakes up in the present again as Charlotte. This pattern continues, meaning both she and Clare are Charlotte….sometimes.
I picked this book up because I have an affinity for both boarding school books and time-travel books. This looked like the best of both worlds to me. A fun middle grade book that introduces to the reader to two different past time periods–the 1970s of Charlotte’s present and the nineteen-teens of Clare’s present.
This book is the third in a series, but it is completely possible to read it as a standalone. No mention is made of the events in the first book, and the second book is actually about what Charlotte’s little sister does while she’s away at boarding school.
The concept is intriguing, because instead of time-travel happening once and landing the person stuck in the past (or future), Charlotte keeps switching, spending every other day in the 70s and every other day in the teens. In addition to the usual issues time-travel books bring up, such as what stays the same and what is actually different throughout time, it also brings up the key question of identity. What makes Charlotte Charlotte? Is she still Charlotte when she’s being called Clare? Why does hardly anyone notice that Clare has changed? Or Charlotte for that matter? The book thus addresses identity issues that middle grade readers might be going through, but in a subtle way through the time-travel trope.
Were you some particular person only because people recognized you as that? (page 66)
The time-travel itself is left as a fantastical mystery, rather than being given a scientific explanation. There’s something magical about the bed that only makes Charlotte and Clare switch places, but no one else. This works without an explanation because the young girls being subjected to the time-travel just accept it without explanation. This is their reality, and it doesn’t matter why it’s happening, they just have to deal with it. Some readers, though, might struggle with the fact that the time-travel itself is never explained.
The one thing that disappointed me about the book, and that I think would have made it a classic and a five star read, is that the book only explores what happens to Charlotte when the girls switch places. Clare, her experiences, and her perspective are only heard about through third parties. The book, while in third person, is entirely Charlotte’s perspective. Clare, a reserved, proper girl from the nineteen-teens must have been shocked by both the technology and the mores of the 1970s she suddenly found herself in. So much more could have been explored by telling both Charlotte’s and Clare’s story. The book misses an opportunity by only focusing on the modern day girl going back in time. The girl being thrust into the future, a future where she finds out Britain wins the war, and there is suddenly no food rationing or flu epidemic, that is such a cool story in and of itself, and Farmer just never ventures out to tell it.
Overall, this is a book that sets up a fantastical world of time-travel within a boarding school. It utilizes the switching of two girls with each other in time to explore questions of identity in a way that surely will appeal to many middle grade readers. The book does not fully explore the story the way it possibly should have, but the young reader will probably enjoy filling in those gaps themselves. Recommended to all fans of boarding school, time-travel, or historic fiction set during World War I’s homefront.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Better World Books
Previous Books In Series:
The Summer Birds
Emma in Winter