by Alex Bell
Red Eye Series from Stripes Publishing
Available in paperback
Set in 1910, Jemima Black is accepted at her new post as a school assistant at Dunvegan School For Girls on the Isle of Skye. Home to destitute girls who’s own parents have either abandoned, orphaned or disowned them, Dunvegan School seems to be a fresh start for Jemima where she could really make a difference. After the death of her mother at Whiteladies, Jemima is keen to move on with her life but her past seems to catch up with her with the arrival of a chest full of Frozen Charlotte dolls. When the school succumbs to a series of horrifying incidents, the finger is pointed at the schoolgirls who are adament that the dolls are to blame. Could an innocent looking batch of porcelain dolls really be responsible for the mutilations at Dunvegan?
Author Alex Bell returns with her prequel to her hit, young adult novel Frozen Charlotte – Charlotte Says. Establishing the story of the creepy dolls and how they happened upon the school for girls, Charlotte Says weaves a chilling tale of murder, mutilation and mistreatment.
Told through the eyes of Jemima Black, we get to understand how the young woman found herself at Dunvegan and how her previous lodging at Whiteladies was met with a fiery, abrupt end, forcing the peniless Jemima to take up her new post. Jemima seems a kind hearted young woman who may have had a slight dubious past with her mother’s penchant for ‘mediumship’ but her intentions at Dunvegan are entirely honest. However, Dunvegan doesn’t seem the best place for Jemima nor the girls who reside there with the wicked, stern headteacher Miss Grayson at the helm; a woman who doesn’t think twice about reprimanding Jemima with the leather tawse like she does with the girls who misbehave.
Whilst Jemima’s tardiness initialluy causes a bit of friction between herself and Miss Grayson, Jemima’s unexpected delivery of a chest full of Frozen Charlotte dolls, assumingly from her previous lodging at Whiteladies, quickly becomes the topic of choice throughout the school. Whilst the young students are in love with their new toys, a few begin to comment on the nature of the dolls; how they like to speak and tell the girl’s to do things. Bad things.
A slow burner that creeps upon you, Charlotte Says is at heart a riveting young adult chiller that manages to systematically unnerve the reader as it tells its story of a group of dolls that are seemingly possessed or have the power to corrupt the minds of whoever is nearby. Set in draughty, old schoolhouse with a terrifying ogre of a headmistress – the only teacher at the school – it’s easy to side with Jemima and the children as they both fall prey to the wickedness of Miss Greyson and the dolls. However, unlike the children, Jemima doesn’t believe the dolls are to blame for the strange things going on inside the school but as time lingers on, Jemima begins to reassess her beliefs.
With a dark history wiped from her mind, Jemima is an intriguing character. We get an overall impression of her from the way she’s been written and her personality as it shines from the page, but we know that something is being held back. Even Jemima knows this and she’s keen to unlock the secrets that she’s kept hidden away from even herself. This mysterious past is slowly revealed throughout the book and helps to establish how Jemima came to be at Dunvegan and how it ties in with the Frozen Charlotte dolls.
Spooky enough to send a chill up anyone’s spine, young or old, thanks to the descriptive imagination of the author who’s quite adept at putting the reader at the centre of the story, Charlotte Says will have you running in the opposite direction at the first sight of dolls, porcelain or not. An easy-to-digest and gripping little read.