The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand
Published by Simon & Schuster on August 27 2013
Genres: Middle Grade, Paranormal
Rating: 4/5 stars
Olivia wants a new life, and it might take ghosts to get it. A heartfelt, gently Gothic novel from Claire Legrand.
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.
Olivia Stellatella is prickly. She’s stubborn and hurt and sometimes mean, and altogether a difficult twelve-year-old girl. Which makes complete sense, considering her mother left, her father walks around in a musical haze, her grandmother is a bit dotty and not in the greatest of health, and her family has absolutely no money to speak of. Not to mention the fact that she now lives in the rehearsal space of the old concert hall in which her father, an orchestra conductor, works. Someone mentioned that Olivia reminded them of Winona Ryder as Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice, which I agree with 100%. Olivia is a lot like a younger Lydia, which was as entertaining as you might expect.
Yes, it’s safe to say that Olivia isn’t the most pleasant person to be around. Thankfully, despite her best efforts to the contrary, she manages to snag a host of new friends throughout her year of living in Emerson Hall – Henry, a boy who gets straight As and spends all of his free time roaming the hall; Igor, a grumpy black cat whom Olivia imagines speaks like Cary Grant; Joan, a friendless girl who likes to spend her spare time protesting and talking about solidarity; and four ghosts stuck haunting Emerson Hall until they recover whatever object that is holding them in place and right it.
I honestly can’t think of another word to describe this book other than sweet. It’s not as light as a lot of middle grade books I’ve read, which is something I really appreciated. Olivia’s problems are real problems, and the fact that she’s twelve years old doesn’t negate them. This book really tugged at my heartstrings and made me feel for the characters (even the Maestro!). One smaller aspect of the book that I liked and thought was special was the way that Olivia repeatedly referred to The Economy to explain her predicament. It was clear that it was a term she’d picked up from the adults around her and that she wasn’t entirely certain of what it meant, only that it was to blame for the failure of the orchestra. I feel like many people throw around the term The Economy in a very similar manner – not quite sure what they’re talking about all the time, but thinking that it makes them sound knowledgeable. It was a minor detail, but one that I appreciated.
The ghosts are another notable feature in this book - they are all so interesting and unique. Their backstories are all absolutely heartbreaking (especially Mr. Worthington!) and I thought that the way that Olivia and her friends were able to help them was very creative. I loved being able to glimpse short snippets of their lives, and seeing them move on was bittersweet.
I can’t say that I’d recommend this to everybody, but I’d definitely pass it around to anyone who likes middle grade books or books about ghosts. It gets pretty dark at times, so that’s something to consider. I know that a lot of people who read middle grade like it because it tends to be a bit lighter and fluffier than some of the other options out there. This is not the book for you if that’s what you’re looking for.