When Dizzy finds something unusual in the woods, he persuades Charlie to accompany him back to the site and see what they can find out. Filled with a mixture of excitement, intrigue, fear and nervous anticipation, they head back into the woods one day after school, shadowed by the toughest kid in school, Johnny Baines. But Johnny isn’t the only surprise they’ll encounter in the woods that night, and, before long, time and space begin to do some funny things.
Throughout The Longest Night of Charlie Noon, a constant stream of shocks and surprises and twists and turns keep the reader on the edge of their seat. There are codes to crack and puzzles to solve, and Dizzy and Charlie take it in turns to apply their respective expertise of the natural world and spy, detective and scouting books. But, as the night draws in, it becomes clear that there are forces quite beyond their existing realm of experience at play. Time begins to play tricks on them; boundaries between reality and imagination blur and they begin to fear they may never see another day dawn.
I am a big fan of Christopher Edge’s books, which tend to provide fantastic narrative inhabited by stand out characters and situations based around an intriguing scientific theme. The Longest Night of Charlie Noon is no exception and may be one of my favourites so far. One of the reasons for this is the powerfully evocative setting. The whole story takes place in one location – the woods – throughout one night, although, as the story highlights, we rarely stay exactly where we are at any given moment, travelling instead to times and places dictated by our minds – memories of the past, the anticipation of the future. Christopher Edge brilliantly recreates what it feels like to be in the woods, celebrating their beauty and enchantment while drawing out the irrational but genuine discomfort and fear they can evoke, especially as light falls. Each time I opened the book, I was truly transported through time and space to join the children in the wood. While the woodland scene may not resonate for every child as it did for me (I did indeed spend much time as a child being both delighted and spooked beyond belief in woods near my home), what will resonate is the feeling of teetering between a sense of risk and adventure.
And while the book is a cracking adventure story (with a well-pitched edge of horror), there is plenty to spark some deeper reflection and philosophical pondering too. Each of the characters provides a rich character study, who, both as individuals and as a group, evolve through the book, and emerge from the night with new understandings of themselves and each other. And there are some big scientific ideas too: What is time? What is meant by now? How long does now last? How do the past, the present and the future fit together? And how can we appreciate where and who we are right now?
With this blend of gripping adventure, vibrant characters and scientific ideas, this is a book that would appeal to a wide range of readers. It would make an excellent reading recommendation for individuals in upper junior years (as well as perhaps some advanced nine-year-old readers). It would also make a brilliant book study. Be sure to make plenty of time for personal response – there is much to be explored.
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