7 Rated Books Book Reviews Old School Wednesdays

Old School Wednesdays: Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer

Welcome, everyone, to a brand new weekly Smugglerific feature: Old School Wednesdays! We came up with the idea towards the end of last year, when both of us were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of new and shiny (and often over-hyped) books. And what better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?

Inspired by our defunct From the Dungeons feature (owing a dash of inspiration from Angieville’s Retro Fridays), we decided to create a new feature for 2013. On Old School Wednesdays, we take a break from the new and pay homage to the old by reviewing books that are at least 5 years old.

Old School Wednesdays Final

Today, it’s Ana’s turn to take over with a review of Charlotte Sometimes!

Charlotte SometimesTitle: Charlotte Sometimes

Author: Penelope Farmer

Genre: Fantasy, Historical, Time Travel

Publisher: Red Fox
Publication date: Originally published in 1969
Paperback: 198 pages

It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone (but part of a larger series of books set in Aviary Hall)

How did we get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): eBook (Kindle)


Charlotte Makepeace is a young teen who has just arrived at her new boarding school and must adapt to her new surroundings and classmates. But then she wakes up after her first night to find herself in a similar yet completely altered life and surrounded by different classmates (and a sister!). She soon finds out that she has travelled 40 years back in time to 1918 and that she is inhabiting the body of a girl called Clare. For the next few months, Charlotte and Clare swap places every other day and Charlotte, now spending more and more time in 1918 must learn how to juggle two realities, and a different sets of friends and teachers.

Charlotte Sometimes is very short, with just under 200 pages but it packs a lot into it: an adventurous plot with a very tense storyline, against a historical background and featuring time travel. At its core though, Charlotte Sometimes is a story about identity and it is very interesting to see Charlotte struggle to maintain a sense of her own self with all the backs and forth. More than the fear of being stuck at a different time, what Charlotte fears and struggles with the most is that people doesn’t seem to be able to tell that Charlotte and Clare are only Charlotte and Clare sometimes. What does that mean? How do you know who you are? Things like:

And, she thought uncomfortably, what would happen if people did not recognize you? Would you know who you were yourself? If tomorrow they started to call her Vanessa or Janet or Elizabeth, would she know how to be, how to feel like, Charlotte? Were you some particular person only because people recognized you as that?

Her sense of identity is also developed in the ways that are concerned with the concept of kindness and how to treat people. In addition, there is an interesting underlining discussion about courage and cowardice. When Charlotte is stuck in 1918 for a longer period of time than expected she fights to address that in herself. It is very telling that she does that as a girl too, and that she feels that as a girl she can never be courageous enough (how sad):

Charlotte was stirred by them, made to feel brave herself or else sometimes very small and cowardly. Arthur, who had become a soldier, must have been very brave, she thought. Most people must be much braver than she, especially boys and men.

It is important to note the historical context: it’s 1918, WWI is in full swing, men are off fighting and I love that the story acknowledges those concepts of cowardice and courage as not clear-cut, black and white or gendered as this young girl might think.

In addition I think it is useful to bring up the reason why I read the book in the first place. I recently read The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes and I mentioned in my review the weird reaction to the book’s usage of Time Travel. I was fully expecting it to be Science Fiction because I tend to associate Time Travel with SciFi but in that book, Time Travel happened because of “Magic House” therefore falling firmly into Fantasy. This was when I was recommended Charlotte Sometimes , a book that is also Fantasy rather than SciFi – the Time Travel here happens because of “Magic Bed”.

I have been trying to understand why exactly I was not bothered by the Time Travel in Charlotte Sometimes like I was in The Shining Girls and came to realise that my problem with the latter is that unlike the former, it had no rules, no explanation whatsoever and felt like a gimmicky element rather than essential plot point. In Charlotte Sometimes, as fantastical as it is, the Time Travel element follows certain rules and has a reasoning behind it and this seems to be really important to me. So there you have it: I read a good book and it also helped me understand another.

Charlotte Sometimes is a lovely book, especially recommended to those who love thoughtful Middle Grade fiction.

Notable Quotes/Parts: I wanted to include the quote below as well which is said one of Charlotte’s teachers in the book and maybe discuss it a bit especially the part that is in bold:

“You girls,” she said, “will grow up in a different world. Women have proved their worth not by such foolish tricks as throwing bricks through windows and chaining themselves to railings, as did some misguided women before the war, but as doctors, soldiers, sailors, as administrators and civil servants, as drivers, postmen, shopkeepers and policewomen. The vote is no longer to be denied you now, nor your value as English citizens. So let all of you,” Miss Bite declaimed, “let all of you grow up to be worthy of this trust, to take your place and play your part as your fellows have done in the course of a just and noble war.”

It is interesting to see how a feminist piece of writing can also be anti-feminist isn’t it? Those “misguided” women after all, paved the way for us all.

Rating: 7 – Very Good


Buy the Book:

Ebook available for kindle UK


  • Andrea K Host
    May 8, 2013 at 1:30 am

    I’m glad you enjoyed this Ana!

    As a sidenote, The Cure based a song on this book! Just because they liked it. It’s a lovely idea.

  • Ana @ things mean a lot
    May 8, 2013 at 4:57 am

    I love this book so much (and read it for the Cure connection Andrea mentioned above, because I am a dork :P). Have you read Tom’s Midnight Garden, Ana? I think you’d like it a lot.

  • Eliza
    May 8, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Oh, this one sounds good. It has time-travel and is set during WWI, both things I love in a book. Adding it to my library list.

  • Elizabeth
    May 8, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Nice review!! Charlotte Sometimes sounds like a good book! I might not be able to read it NOW, cause I have to buy it and I have too many books to read but your reviews are awesome. I don’t have a book blog but I always love looking at them to find new books to read (and to read the often entertaining reviews!

  • xenu01
    May 8, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Did you ever read a YA or Middle Readers book about a girl who travels back to Amish times? With her single mom? And her mom had a t-shirt that she thought was SO EMBARRASSING “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Which in retrospect makes me love her mom.

  • Rachael
    May 9, 2013 at 4:52 am

    I read ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ on a reccomendation from someone (or something) I can’t remember. For such a short book, it certainly does get through a lot. I enjoyed that Clare was never a character as such – you never got inside her head or knew how she felt about swapping between times – but you still got to know her through Charlotte. And there is a series of books set in Avariy Hall?! I must find them!

  • Sarah
    May 11, 2013 at 8:43 am

    I read this as a teenager and again recently to my seven-year-old daughter. I was surprised that she enjoyed it so much as it has a slow, dreamy feel to it, especially for a novel involving time travel and war. I found Charlotte to be a frustratingly passive protagonist at times but it made for a great exploration of identity, as she lets herself gradually become Clare, and a refreshing change from the assertive heroines of so much children’s and YA fiction.

    I liked the obvious inconsistencies in the feminist/anti-feminist speech you quoted! It really captures the complexities of women’s lives and identities at the time…. and takes me back to my days at university debating what it really meant to be a feminist. And isn’t this still the case today? I have friends who consider me a traitor to the feminist cause because I shave my legs; at the same time I can’t understand why any intelligent woman would choose to torture herself by wearing high heels all day.

    I know there are two versions of the novel out there – apparently one of them, published a few years ago, misses out the final chapter where Charlotte receives a parcel. I hope this was in your version?

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