callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

Beswitched: schoolgirl time travel

Since Tom’s Midnight Garden thrilled me as a child, I’ve rather enjoyed time slip stories, although I don’t like fantasy. In Beswitched, a modern 21st century schoolgirl finds herself taking the place of another Flora, in a 1930s boarding school. I’m sure at this very moment there are people cursing clever Kate Saunders and wondering why this brilliant idea didn't occur to them. I loved it!

Flora Fox is giving her parents a hard time because they're sending her to boarding school for a couple of terms while they go to Italy to deal with Granny, who's broken her hip. She sets off on the train, laden with ace new clothes, iPod, laptop, mobile and other necessities of life. She's destined never to enjoy life at a modern boarding school; falling asleep, she wakes to find herself wearing layers of uncomfortable clothing, travelling in a train with a mahogany loo. This is all very scary and she finds out that she has been 'summoned' from the future by her new dorm-mates, who never dreamt their spell would work.

In an interview here Kate Saunders mentions her teenage love of old school stories. This shows because all the details are right: the girls' names, the lessons, the routines. How Flora longs for a daily shower and modern hair products! She realises that she has taken over the identity of another girl and even shares some of her memories; somewhere in the future, this stranger is living her life. She learns that she can only return to the future once she has achieved the task she has been called back to do. But what is it? Finding out is fun and by the end of the story Flora is sorry to be leaving her new friends and has become a nicer person. Plus, there's a twist. It's an intriguing idea, well carried out and very enjoyable.

This reminded me more of the TV series Lost in Austen (wrote about it here) than of other time slip stories for children. Flora has to watch her language and has trouble coping with the more formal manners and 'eccents' of the period. Like Jemima Rooper's character she's torn between liking the people she's with and longing to get back to her own time and she often slips up. It's far less serious or scary than Charlotte Sometimes (school again), Playing Beattie Bow or A Traveller in Time. I think my favourites in the genre are Tom’s Midnight Garden and A Flute in Mayferry Street.

Tags: children's books, kate saunders, school stories, time travel

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