Book: THE YEAR OF SHADOWS
Author: Claire Legrand
TWs: Death, bullying, blood, vaguely graphic scenes of death.
MG/YA/NA/A: Middle Grade
Olivia Stellatella is having a rough year.
Her mother’s left, her neglectful father—the maestro of a failing orchestra—has moved her and her grandmother into the city’s dark, broken-down concert hall to save money, and her only friend is Igor, an ornery stray cat.
Just when she thinks life couldn’t get any weirder, she meets four ghosts who haunt the hall. They need Olivia’s help—if the hall is torn down, they’ll be stuck as ghosts forever, never able to move on.
Olivia has to do the impossible for her shadowy new friends: Save the concert hall. But helping the dead has powerful consequences for the living…and soon it’s not just the concert hall that needs saving.
So far, Claire Legrand has not let me down.
I picked up her debut novel, THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS, and was immediately blown away by the stories and characters she created. The book was the perfect amount and creepy and entertaining, but not so creepy that I felt uncomfortable sharing the book with my godkids. THE YEAR OF SHADOWS is no different.
The story starts with Olivia Stellatella moving into the concert hall with her aging Nonnie and her… Maestro. See, Olivia refuses to call him Dad anymore because she’s convinced he is the sole reason for all of her problems. She isn’t too far off base. Not only is the Maestro so focused on the orchestra that Olivia’s mom ran away, but he’s poured all of the family’s money into saving it and now the family is homeless and living off scraps and charity. Even worse, Olivia’s perfect classmate, Henry, works as an usher at the concert hall and knows her family’s situation.
But then the ghosts start showing themselves to Olivia and Henry, and they need help to move on to the other side.
I love how Legrand uses reluctant friendship to move her plots along. Olivia is definitely an abrasive character who doesn’t know how to let her guard down since her mom walked out and Henry is just open and nice to everyone. While they have their ups and downs throughout the book, I enjoyed that their friendship never really wavered. This is middle grade, so we don’t exactly get a romance but we do get to see Olivia’s feelings change from disdain to friendship to butterflies for Henry.
This does have the usual middle grade element of neglectful parents, ridiculous school officials, and the cool adults down the street. As an adult, I think I do understand the Maestro’s intentions: the orchestra is how he provides for his family and the only career he has ever known. It did seem very unfair that Olivia put all the blame on him for her problems when it was her mother’s choice to leave and to not take Olivia with her.
There is a bit of plot twist at the end, but if you pay close enough attention to the shades, you’ll figure it out long before Olivia does.
If you have younger ones who are affected by death, be careful of this one! In order for the ghosts to move on, Henry and Olivia have to experience their deaths as if it was happening to them. Not all of the stories are terrible, but their are a few that’s probably a bit much for delicate readers.
I really enjoyed this book and the characters! Would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes a little spook in their middle grade!