by Alex Bell
Scholastic Press, 2014
Supremely creepy and well-crafted, Alex Bell’s Frozen Charlotte will keep you turning pages even if you have to keep the hall light on when you go to bed. The story of Sophie, whose best friend’s sudden and mysterious death leads her to her Uncle’s house to discover if the ghost of her cousin might have had something to do with it.
When she arrives on the tiny Isle of Skye off the Scotland coast, where her Uncle lives with her three cousins, she discovers that Jay’s death isn’t the only unanswered question. Her cousins work at discrediting each other, Piper is sweet on the surface, but Cameron insists it’s an act. Piper is just as determined to convince Sophie that Cameron hasn’t been the same since their younger sister’s death and can’t be trusted. The youngest of the family, Lilias, has a fear of just about everything including her own skeleton. Is she troubled like her mother who was sent to a sanatorium after her daughter died or is there something more sinister going on?
The biggest question is what do the Frozen Charlotte porcelain doll collection have to do with the family’s tragic experience and is their tragedy connected to the history of the school they’ve turned into a home on the isle’s windswept cliffs?
Driven by her need to find out what really happened to her friend, Sophie will put her own life in danger as she works to discover who she can trust and to break the curse that seems to haunt her cousins.
The paranormal elements in the novel are based on the Frozen Charlotte dolls, creepy porcelain doll “toys” that slept in coffins, popular during the Victorian Era. One Google search of the dolls and you will see why Bell was inspired to write a horror novel using them in a starring roll.
Readers who like horror set in creepy locations will enjoy this book, but it is also about honoring friendship and learning who you can trust, so there is plenty of depth in character development and imagery and use of language to satisfy the more literary minded reader. Bell uses setting and plot to create an atmosphere that you can feel, whether you want to or not.
My one gripe about the book is that Bell leaves a loose end when it comes to the connecting the novel’s conclusion to the opening scenes when Sophie’s friend dies. It is never clear if Sophie discovers any foul play connected to her friend’s death; she finds plenty of foul play, but his death could also have been an accident. For a story that works so hard in the final scenes to explain the various mysteries that keeps readers turning the page, it fails to satisfyingly answer the one that started it.
Still, a good read, just one that readers will be asked to finish for themselves.