Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Book Review: Once Was a Time by Leila Sales


I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for this review. And the first word that comes to mind is "Bravo!" I was just blown away by this book!
Charlotte Bromley and her best friend, Kitty McLaughlin were ten-year-old girls growing up in Bristol, England in 1940. World War II was causing everyone to live in fear as Luftwaffe planes dropped bombs over their heads and the Germans were marching across Europe. Charlotte's father, a scientist, had spent years studying time travel and was on the brink of an important discovery. Because of the strategic importance of the ability to travel through time, Charlotte and Kitty found themselves captured and threatened with execution if Charlotte's father didn't reveal what he had discovered.
At a critical moment, just as Charlotte and Kitty were facing mortal danger, Charlotte was suddenly thrown into another place and time. All alone, Charlotte finds herself halfway around the world in America in the 21st century. Not only does she have to find her way in a foreign place without money or relatives or a home, she has no idea how to find her way back to her own place and time.
Sales has done a masterful job creating characters that are believable and relatable whether they inhabit World War II-era England or present-day Sutton, Wisconsin. Extensive research was undertaken to make sure that the book captured the essence of what English children experienced during the war. Once Charlotte has landed in the modern world, the characters that she encounters, from the librarian and the social worker from Children's Service to her foster parents, teachers and classmates, truly reflect the customs and attitudes of our times.
The plot events that follow as Charlotte tries to make sense of her new world and learn what happened to her best friend and family are compelling, dramatic and at times suspenseful. There are humorous moments when Charlotte first arrives. She's puzzled by the clothes she sees on a boy: baggy shorts and a shirt with the words "Just Do It." Her English accent is compared to Harry Potter and she's unacquainted with that character in literature. It's fun to see modern cars, air conditioning, computers, cell phones and the internet through the eyes of someone from another time.
Book lovers will rejoice that Charlotte is a book lover as well. Before she is ripped from her time and place, she and all the members of her family spend dinnertime with their own books in their laps. Charlotte would much rather sit and read a book, then go to the movies. When she finds herself in modern day Wisconsin, she is immediately drawn to the public library as a place to find help for researching her family, but also as a place of immense comfort. In order to catch up on all the literature from the last 70 years, she starts reading the books in the A shelves and intends to work her way through the alphabet.
The book has a lot of emotional power to it. I needed to have a tissue as I got to the last pages of it. It also has some very important messages about time, coincidence, friendship, and love. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that the story is so powerful, I found myself thinking about it after I went to bed and for a few days after I finished it. I love it when books do that!
I think this book is going to be very important and popular this year. I definitely want to have several copies of this book in my classroom library! I hope you love this book as much as I did!
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published April 5th 2016 by Chronicle Books

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