Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Charlotte

Charlotte"s Choice

Cathleen Twomey
Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Boyds Mills Press, 2002   ISBN: 1590780361

Charlotte Matthew is a quiet girl who thinks the best thing to do in life is to leave things well alone and not rock the boat. She cannot possibly imagine that her whole world is about to get turned upside down simply because a train is coming to town. Admittedly this is not just any train; it is the orphan train, carrying orphans from New York City, children of all ages who need a new home and a new life.

In Charlotte’s town, Turner’s Crossing, several of the orphans are taken into homes. One of these is Jesse. At first she looks dreadfully uncared for and unattractive, and is distant during school days. Over time though she begins to come out of her shell and to bloom in the most remarkable way. New dresses and decent meals soon make her look very different indeed. In fact Jesse is a startlingly attractive girl. She is also strong-willed and determined,   something she had to be to survive her life in the city. She is also everything that Charlotte isn’t and Charlotte wishes she were more like the strange city girl.

Before Charlotte quite knows what is happening, she has become Jesse’s one real friend in the town, and Jesse has become a frequent visitor in Charlotte’s house. Even more astonishing is the facet that Jesse has become devoted to a tiny kitten whose life she saved. Every day she comes to Charlotte’s house to feed and care for Max, and it is as if Max is the only living thing Jesse really grows to care for.

All seems to be going well until Jesse leaves the home she was adopted into. The old lady who took Jesse in refuses to let Max move into the house. Jesse finds a new place to live, a place that frightens Charlotte and worries her. Almost inevitably something truly dreadful happens and Jesse shares a terrible secret with her timorous younger friend. What should Charlotte do with a secret that is so damaging, so frightful?

“Charlotte’s Choice” is a very powerful story that shows the reader how harsh life could be in a small Missouri town at the turn of the century. It can be disturbing and even heart breaking to read about Jesse’s life, and yet through her we are also able to see how hardship shapes the young and how people with strong personalities can survive. Jesse is truly a victim of fate and though her story is a tragic one, she still gives the people who are living in the town of Turner’s Crossing something to think about, and a lesson in courage that should not be forgotten.


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