* Prices may differ from that shown
In case you haven't seen the telly adverts Charlie St Cloud, (the titles too long to keep typing it all!) is the new film starring Zac Efron. Hence the cover of the book pictures Zac Efron looking meaningful with a young lady wrapped around him. Now books pronouncing 'Now a Major Motion Picture' often put me off as its invariably the book of the film and bears little resemblance to the original.
My daughter actually bought this book and recommended it to me, after checking it was the original and published in 2004 I decided to give it a try.
It's the story of Charlie St Cloud, who, as a teenager was in a car crash that had terrible repercussions.
The first chapter in the book is narrated by Florio a fireman who attended the crash in which Charlie's younger brother Sam and their dog Oscar died. Charlie blames himself for the crash after borrowing the neighbours car to take Sam to a baseball game when their mother was at work. Charlie was also close to death, we even have a scene where Charlie and Sam are bathed in white light before Charlie is ripped back into the world of the living.
Charlie is not the first character we are introduced to in depth. That's Tess Carroll a young woman still grieving for the loss of her father, who's preparing to sail around the world single handed. She's a tough girl is Tess, independent and headstrong. Sherwood manages to introduce her whole personality us in one chapter, not only that he really manages to set the scene for her preparations for the voyage.
And its not all crammed in, as much information shoved in as to instantly disappear from your memory. Sherwood wastes not a single eloquent sentence as Tess heads out for the last test of her boat before her big trip.
We can also tell that Sherwood either knows a lot about boats or he has done his research.
Before the accident Charlie was a straight A student heading towards one of the Ivy League schools. Now he lives in the same village he grew up in and is the head groundskeeper of the cemetery that Sam is buried in. And Charlie can now speak and see the dead. Not only that he can touch them as well, giving him the ability to play games with Sam who has remained 12 yrs old. This has been his routine for the past 13 years, a routine that rules Charlie's life and has cost him friends and girlfriends.
I loved the set-up for the reappearance of Sam St Cloud, we're led into the beauty of the forest were Charlie lives. You hear of many readers being able to get the reader to 'see' the scene, well Sherwood does this exceptionally well throughout the book. I even twitched a little smile when Sam steps out from the trees.
The book is peppered with Charlie's bittersweet interaction with the spirits who have died including Florio the fireman, and those grieving for them.
This book could so easily have taken a religious theme, a Christian view of life and death. Thankfully there are no references to higher being, there's just one reference to God, but in the context of a personal view. Just ordinary people with ordinary lives but extraordinary deaths.
But we haven't forgotten Tess, after a vivid scene of Tess fighting a storm in her boat she then appears back in town, a bit bashed and bruised but otherwise unhurt.
Charlie and Tess meet in the cemetery where she is at her fathers grave. To Charlie she seems alive and well, but she can see and talk to Sam.
Tess realises she is probably dead before Charlie does, but Tess is still missing and her body has not been found.
Thereupon the story continues with the reader assuming Tess is dead, and then we finally come to the crux of the book. The first half is mainly scene setting. So often such long scene settings can drag but not there. Its taken as an opportunity to introduce and flesh out these characters so we can understand their motives and actions later on.
So what do you do when your best friend and brother is dead, and the woman you are falling with also appears to be dead?
How strong does a person have to be and stay in order to carry on living.
Oh the pondering on these questions you will do! From this point it turns into a bit of a thriller! But you end up asking yourself a really morbid question. Will Charlie St Cloud end up killing himself to be with his loved ones?
I cant tell you that, I don't do spoilers! What I can tell you is that this is an excellent book, beautifully written and eloquent. I now know these characters inside out, and Sherwood is fabulous at bringing them to life. Unusually this book brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye!
The movie adverts run the risk of reducing the view of this book to a mere romance, and to be honest so does the cover. Its more than that, its thought provoking, interesting and gives us a reassuring debate about death.
I hate to say that this book will probably appeal to a more female audience, but it's true. It is romantic and therefore anathema to anyone with testosterone! I'd love blokes to give it a go and tell us their views!
Definitely a book worth making time for.
I read this book several years ago when I was a bookseller and was asked to write a review for it (which is now below). My first impressions were mixed and I was slightly hesitant to read it. Looking back now, I cannot fathom why, because it was a surprisingly wonderful read and it is something I would recommend to a lot of people.
Charlie St. Cloud has spent the last thirteen years living in the past: back to the fateful night in his youth where an accident had left his younger brother dead and had held his very existence on its brink. It also led to a promise that would ultimately shape his adult years.
This was Charlie's death.
At twenty-either, Charlie lives and works among the monuments and epitaphs to the dead, and waits for the twilight hour when the spirit of his brother, Sam, visits. Together they resume and savour the games of their childhood. It is a time neither is willing nor wants to give up.
This is Charlie's life.
That is, until one day, Charlie meets Tess, a woman who likewise has suffered the pain of loss. Unlike Charlie, however, she is a person of courage and determination, and one that is about to embark upon a solo sail around the world. Grief made her embrace life.
This is a tale of love, laughter, sorrow and the ever-lasting bond of brotherhood. Well-crafted characters and scenes brings the story to life, and promised to make Ben Sherwood a rising star. Written with delicacy and creativity, it is a heart-warming and inspirational portrayal of learning to live and finally letting go. I loved it.
I'm sitting here wondering how I can possibly review this book without spoiling the plot for you! This is one of those books I found very hard to start reading, but once I'd read the first couple of chapters (which took me a good few weeks!) I zoomed through the rest in days.
The story begins when Charlie, the main character, is a teenager. He drives himself and his brother to a baseball match one evening when their mother is out, without asking permission to borrow the car. All is well until they have a serious accident on their way home. The two are taken to hospital in the back of an ambulance, while the paramedics attempt to revive them. They hover between life and death and, at this point, have a conversation in which Charlie promises that he will never leave his little brother. Unfortunately although Charlie is revived, his brother passes away.
However, Charlie discovers that he is able to see the ghost of his brother, and he keeps his promise by meeting Sam every evening at dusk for a game of baseball, at the local cemetery where he works. It is in and around this cemetery, roughly twenty years later, that the bulk of the story takes place. Charlie can leave his place of work whenever he wants, as long as he knows what time the sun sets on that particular day and can be back in time for his brother. It is only through meeting Tess, an adventurous woman who owns her own business and plans to sail around the world solo, that he gradually begins to understand what he is missing out on by keeping his promise.
This is a sweet, well-written story that deals with life and death and being mortal in a remarkably readable manner. It is neither depressingly dark nor sickly sweet, as I suspected it might be when I started to read it. It is just a simple story of love, life and human relationships and, while it isn't one of the best books I have ever read, it is certainly well worth reading.
I found this copy in a charity shop for less than a pound, and I would suggest that this would be the best place to buy it, as it's one of those books that seems to turn up over and over again in such places. The next time I'm home I'll go and see if there are any more Ben Sherwood books lining the shelves- he's written one which is interestingly entitled 'The Man Who Ate The 747.'