by Penelope Farmer
Publisher: Red Fox
Reading level: MG
Charlotte Makepeace is the new girl at her boarding school. After going to sleep in the curious iron bed with the little wheels, she awakens the next morning to find that she has switched places with a girl named Clare Moby who lives in 1918.
At first, the girls view this strange phenomenon as a curiosity. They even figure out a way to communicate with each other over the 40 years that separate them. But when Charlotte finds herself trapped in the past, the question is not only how will she return to her own time, but who is she, really?
I've been itching to read this book for ages. I'm so glad I finally got to it, because it was quite good!
The time-travel theme has been done many times, of course, but I quite liked how it was done here. As far as I can tell, Charlotte and Clare physically travelled through time (as opposed to just their consciousnesses travelling); they must have looked very much alike for so few people to have noticed the difference. But the story is not so much about the time travel itself as it is about identity. It's also an English boarding school story, which is bound to introduce a number of interesting characters and scenarios. There were a few things that I thought might be relevant that were never addressed again (what was the deal with Elsie, for example?), but on the whole it was a pretty cohesive story.
I did like most of the characters, but I especially liked Clare's younger sister, Emily. She had such a big personality for a little girl; she was only ten, but in some ways she came across as more of an adventurous, rebellious teenager. The stuffy Chisel Browns were also pretty entertaining.
The narrative is quite lovely -- even poetic -- in places, and I enjoyed reading every word. However, the EPUB edition that I had (supposedly based on the 40th anniversary edition of the novel) was abysmal. There were numerous typos and odd, random punctuation (like errant periods or one half of a set of quotation marks just dangling in the middle of nowhere) and I find it difficult to believe that such mistakes were actually included in the original... and then continually overlooked for the next 40 years! (The good thing about this edition, though, was that it included the original ending. Apparently, someone in the 1980s decided that the last bit shouldn't be included.)
All in all, I really enjoyed this one and I can see why it's considered a classic. Funnily enough, it's the third book about the Makepeace sisters. However, you do not need to have read the first two books to enjoy the third (and it's a good thing, too, since the others appear to be out of print).
Overall: 4 out of 5