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According to the flap copy, Peyton, winner of the Carnegie Medal for her 1969 novel Flambards, spun this Victorian-era novel out of a true incident. It would be a mistake, however, to infer from this that the story is in any way realisticÄor to assume that her award back then augurs good work here. The tale begins like a formula romance, the overblown prose appropriate enough to the desperation that Charlotte, 16, feels when her vicar grandfather tells her she's to marry his stuffy young curate. But the plotting quickly becomes preposterous. Before long, Charlotte is joining her older brother and his Oxford chums on a mountaineering trip in the Alps, where she initiates what might politely be called heavy petting with a Swiss guide and, as she says, finds herself "dining with a disguised murderer [and] nursing a fallen [i.e., pregnant] domestic." After that, she and her new friends all move to the crumbling home of dashing Milo, who orbits the racy crowd of the prince of Wales; the others pretend to be his servants and, as Milo conducts a sordid affair with the much older woman in the neighboring estate, everyone falls in and out of love with one another. This might seem harmless escapist fareÄexcept for the characterizations. All are clich‚d, but two are insidious: the maid's wanton ways are synonymous with her "low" birth; and the only Jew, repeatedly ridiculed, is ugly, dishonest and "lazy... she did not naturally work like the rest of them." If the publisher is gambling on the author's reputation, the wager here is lost. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)

Gr 8 Up-Cardboard characters play out this contrived melodrama set in the 19th century. Sixteen-year-old Charlotte is desperate to avoid an arranged marriage to Hubert Carstairs, her vicar grandfather's curate. She enlists the help of her older brother, Ben, an Oxford student who is well connected with high society, in devising an elaborate scheme to escape her cloistered existence in England. The adventure takes Charlotte mountain climbing in Switzerland with a group of Ben's friends. Though Peyton's imagery and detailed descriptions of the Alps and the challenge of the sport are excellent, they cannot make up for a convoluted plot. In Switzerland, Charlotte becomes involved with a group of young people whose lives could not be more different from her own. This creates the attraction as she falls in and out of love. The interactions among the characters are superficial and everything happens too conveniently to be believable or to inspire any emotional response. The first person Charlotte has a passion for turns out to be married. She later becomes attracted to Milo, Ben's friend who is having an affair with a married 48-year-old woman whose sudden death clears the way for the clearly predicted love between the two. The deftly described accident that begins the book does pull readers in, but the flashback that follows does not sustain the intensity. Obvious foreshadowing sets up every twist in the plot, including the "surprise" that brings readers back to the present. This is a disappointing selection.

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