Suspend all disbelief and take a ride back to the early 1900’s where we meet Jemima, a 17 year old girl who takes a position as assistant mistress at Dunvegan School for Girls, an industrial school for girls who haven’t committed crimes but have nowhere else to go, located on the Isle of Skye. Jemima herself is desperately trying to escape her tragic past at Whiteladies. So, no happy family stories here.
After spending some time on the Isle of Skye at the beginning of 1910 setting up the story we then travel seamlessly back and forth between there and Whiteladies where we gradually learn more about the past 18 months, Jemima’s past and reasons she wants to start over. Jemima was an interesting, complex character who longed to be the girl she was before Whiteladies yet knowing her physical and emotional scarring had changed her irrevocably.
Jemima begins work for Miss Grayson, the evil woman who should be fitted with a device that gives her an electric shock when she gets within 200 metres of a child, otherwise known in this story as the schoolmistress. This is a school where little things like light in the form of candles are rationed and punishments are doled out in abundance and recorded for posterity in The Punishment Book. Punishments may include wearing the imbecile’s cap while sitting in the stupid corner, being made to go without meals and heating, and being sent to Solitary where you may well freeze to death.
Needless to say, Miss Grayson wasn’t exactly my favourite character and throughout the book I determined her appropriate punishment would be for me to lock her in Solitary to enjoy some quality time with Annabelle, who I would have previously arranged to loan indefinitely from Lorraine and Ed Warren. While on the subject of punishments, I think Redwing may have benefited from a new friendship with Chucky.
Now that you know which characters’ names and offences should be inked into The Punishment Book for perpetuity, allow me tell you about my favourite character, Estella. Besides having the coolest name of anyone in the book which translates appropriately as star, Estella is a strong willed little girl who, despite having a history of not being believed no matter what she says, defiantly tells her truth regardless of the consequences. And believe me, for Estella there are always consequences. I definitely had a soft spot for her and would’ve adopted her in a heartbeat.
Henry was going to be my second favourite character as he was so sweet and loyal and loving, but he ended up annoying me because no one is that perfect. So, my actual second favourite character/s? The super creepy evil dolls, all named Frozen Charlotte with the exception of the lone male known as Frozen Charlie. Interestingly enough I don’t remember Charlie being psychotic but the poor guy was surrounded by some seriously unbalanced female dolls.
If you’re like me, by the halfway point, reading “Charlotte says…” will fill you with equal parts dread and morbidly fascinated anticipation that mirrors hearing Chucky’s “Wanna play?”. I loved the supernatural aspects of this book, dabbling in mediumship, automatic writing, séances, ghosts, possession and, of course, creepy dolls. I enjoyed the slow reveal of Jemima’s past and the reason why she doesn’t remember what happened the night of the fire at Whiteladies.
I spent a lot of the middle of the book arguing with myself about Jemima’s actions and lack of action – “Why doesn’t she just – she’s only 17. She’s just a kid! But couldn’t she just – remember her past. But what if she told – I told you! She’s a traumatised 17 year old! Just shut up and enjoy the book!”
I don’t usually find books creepy these days. I’ll get to the end and think to myself, ‘You think that’s scary? Come and sleep a night in my nightmares!’ Yet Charlotte Says was delightfully creepy, best read at night when the house is silent and you can hear the creaks from the house settling and the wind rustling through the trees. This book comes with a fairly significant death toll and some really disturbing and detailed descriptions of actual and fantasised about violence against animals.
I’m not usually that into books that linger in the early 20th century. Sure, I’m happy to time travel there on my way to another time period, but Alex Bell is such a talented writer that I would have happily signed up to stay longer on the Isle of Skye reading by rationed greasy, stinky, animal fat candlelight.
Having not read Frozen Charlotte first like I probably should have as it got buried under my towering TBR pile and temporarily forgotten about until I heard about Charlotte Says, I now have the excitement of knowing I get to read about what happens next with the benefit of knowing the backstory. I can’t wait!
Content warnings include horrific fictional (but in context with the story) animal cruelty, physical abuse and super creepy dolls.
Thank you to NetGalley, Little Tiger Group, Stripes Publishing, and a special thank you to Charlie for the opportunity to read this book. “Charlotte says you need to read this book!”
Once Upon a Blurb
The much-anticipated prequel to the bestselling Frozen Charlotte, a Zoella Book Club title in Autumn 2016.
Following the death of her mother in a terrible fire, Jemima flees to the remote Isle of Skye, to take up a job at a school for girls. There she finds herself tormented by the mystery of what really happened that night.
Then Jemima receives a box of Frozen Charlotte dolls from a mystery sender and she begins to remember – a séance with the dolls, a violent argument with her step-father and the inferno that destroyed their home. And when it seems that the dolls are triggering a series of accidents at the school, Jemima realizes she must stop the demonic spirits possessing the dolls – whatever it takes.