Today, I'm reviewing a lovely MG book that I had the honor of reading a few months ago - Claire Legrand's The Year of Shadows.
MMGM is hosted by author Shannon Messenger at her blog. Go check it out!
Hardcover, 416 pages
Expected publication: August 27th 2013 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Format read: Physical ARC via publisher
She's hilarious on Twitter - it's not every author that can proudly state that they're rolling around like a sea otter out of boredom, and inspire the same number of responses that she did - and her debut novel, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, was a delightfully creepy read which reminded me just how magical and versatile MG books could be.
So when I heard that she was writing a second MG book, and I read her introduction to Olivia on Goodreads, I knew that this was a book which would be going to the top of my to-read list.
I requested an ARC from Simon and Schuster, and hoped for the best. Fortunately for me, they kindly sent me an ARC, and I proceeded to tear through the book in less than a day. I then spent another day trying to process what I had read - it was that spectacular.
Though I already know that my review definitely won't do Claire's book justice, I only hope that it will invoke some of the magic that I felt while reading it, and inspire the rest of you to buy the book when it comes out.
Now, with her father's orchestra on the verge of bankruptcy, he's moved Olivia and her grandmother into the concert hall housing the orchestra, in a last ditch effort to save some money and save his lifelong dream.
Olivia settles into the building begrudgingly, befriending an opinionated, stray cat named Igor, who has plenty to say about her new choice of digs. But pretty soon, things take a turn for the weird.
Four ghosts, each from different time periods, come to Olivia, asking for her help to move on to the afterlife. Without her assistance, they'll be trapped in limbo, unable to move on. And when plans are announced to close the concert hall, Olivia's task takes on even greater urgency.
With the help of two newfound friends, Igor and some other unexpected sources, Olivia begins to take on her new task. On the way, she'll learn that it's not only the ghosts or the hall that needs saving, but something even greater...
Things that worked:
I've read plenty of MG/YA books in my time - 63 books in this year alone - and Olivia stands out as one of the most well-rounded characters I've read in a very long time.
She's smart, observant and protective, but she's also a little bit broken. She's genuinely embarrassed that she's been reduced to wearing thrift store clothes and living in the concert hall, and she's scared that her situation may become even worse.
Legrand does an exceptionally beautiful job of chartering Olivia's growth from someone who can't believe that her current situation is now her reality, to someone who's able to take strength from her situation, and regain a sense of optimism for the future.
Ultimately, Olivia is just as brave as some of the other notable heroines in her genre, with the only difference being that her bravery doesn't come in the form of her ability to shoot a bow and arrow. Her bravery comes in the form of her ability to adapt and gain strength from her day-to-day life.
As for her secondary characters - they're all sketched out as beautifully and as well-rounded as Olivia. Legrand has a gift for adding the smaller details to illustrate a character which will immediately establish a rapport with a reader - e.g. Tillie and Jax's bracelets; Nonnie's scarves - and that gift is in full abundance here.
Of special note: I loved Claire's characterization of Henry. If I were back in junior high, he would totally be literary crush. This is a boy who's handsome, smart and kind, but he's also not perfect. He understand Olivia's sense of loss in a way, which I think is especially poignant.
* Legrand's handling of the tough issues
The Year of Shadows introduces a wide range of tough issues, from child abandonment, to bullying, to child neglect, to depression. This is definitely a book that doesn't shy away from exposing readers to complex subjects, but Legrand skillfully handles them in a way that is both respectful and thought-provoking.
Legrand is especially good at discussing issues like child abandonment in a way that is geared to show younger readers that it is not anyone's fault. Instead there are complex issues at play, which may lead to a situation like the one with Olivia's mother.
(Her explanation for Olivia's mother's decision to leave was also handled in a way that acknowledged the complexities at play, but was also streamlined in way that when explained to Olivia, was heartbreakingly beautiful).
I'm not a child expert by any means, but I think that The Year of Shadows may be a helpful tool for educators and parents reaching out to students/children who are experiencing issues that are similar to the ones Olivia is experiencing.
I could go on and on about what a skilled, talented writer Legrand is, but I'll leave at it this: her ability to pick the right words, and right descriptors, is breathtaking. Much like Olivia and Henry's encounters with the ghosts, I felt like I was sucked into their world in a way that I haven't felt when reading, in quite some time.
I was especially moved by her writing in two specific scenes:
* The background behind Tillie and Jax. Their situation was described in the bleakest of tones, but Legrand also infuses such a sense of optimism into their relationship, I was just as overjoyed and delighted when they found peace at last.
* When others band together to help Olivia's father. I definitely can't describe this without giving away massive spoilers, so I'll just put it this way: Olivia learns that peopledo care.
There's a bit of a twist in the book, which completely surprised me. There's only one hint to the twist, before Legrand lets it all unfold.
Without giving spoilers away, the twist is both tragic and beautiful. I was especially proud of Olivia's ability to face it head on, and recognize that the twist does change a lot of what she initially believed.
I'm not going to lie - the ending made me tear up. I felt like giving Legrand a slow clap, as I closed the book.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
This is a book that beautifully details the small triumphs and tragedies of every day life, but also reminds readers to stay optimistic, in the face of seemingly insurmountable loss. People change. Mistakes are overcome. Loss, even though it may seem incomprehensible at the time, will eventually motivate you to grow into the person that you were destined to be.
I strongly recommend this book for everyone. Regardless of whatever genre you normally read, I believe that you will find something to love and cherish about The Year of Shadows.
Run, don't walk to your nearest bookstore when this comes out on August 27th - you'll thank me later.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of The Year of Shadows from Simon and Schuster in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!