The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand. Simon & Schuster, 2013. Currently Available.
Genre: Ghost Story / Fantasy
Face Value: This is an excellent middle grade cover – exactly the kind of cover I would have been drawn to when I was younger. Olivia looks thoughtful and capabe and totally suspicious of her surroundings, and the ghosts in the background are just the right level of scary. It has a simultaneously classic and contemporary feel. I LOVE it.
Does it Break the Slate? Oh, totally. Olivia is brave and self-determined and a fantastic heroine. But she also has a thing or two to learn about friendship and taking care of others, and Legrand doesn’t let her off the hook. She’s one of the most authentically grumpy heroines I’ve found since Jessica Darling and I couldn’t be happier about that. But she does manage eventually to open herself up to the friendship she needs, and when it comes down to it there is no one more loyal.
Who would we give it to? This is an ideal addition to the canon of middle grade ghost stories. Put this on your Halloween shelves with Wait til Helen Comes and The Graveyard Book. But this is more than a good ghost story. This is one of the best middle grade books I’ve come across recently in the way it addresses the recent economic recession. The Economy is as much of a villain in Olivia’s world as the shades are.
Review: It’s been a bad year for Olivia Stellatella. Her mother left and her father, the Maestro is preoccupied with managing failing orchestra. Money is so tight that the Maestro has moved himself, Olivia and her grandmother into the dilapidated music hall to save money. She’s too worried to do well in school and she doesn’t have any friends except a stray cat named Igor. And then the ghosts appear. Four ghosts, who need Olivia’s help to move on. Unless they can find the objects linking them to the human world they will move from ghosts into “shades” – dangerous spirits who have no humanity left and can never move on to a peaceful death.
Shades are scary, but the real villain here is The Economy (capitalization Legrand’s). She does a great job through Olivia’s eyes of reflecting the way The Economy becomes a larger than life villain, a partially understood concept that has been responsible for all of the things that have gone wrong in her life. This is a ghost story with a classic feel, but it is deeply, personally, and significantly set in the present, in a world where losing your home, losing your sense of security, and losing the things that make you feel safe are all too easy.
Olivia is a brilliant character – angry and wounded but also loyal and persistent. She’s a talented artist and a thoughtful human being. The supporting characters are also brilliant – Henry, the honor student who has secrets of his own, Joan the would-be activist who rallies behind Olivia and Henry’s cause, Richard Ashley the dashing trumpet player who would do anything for the orchestra and Olivia and her family, the Barsky’s who run the local coffee shop and offer Olivia help and support in all of her problems.
Olivia is up against some serious challenges, both real and fantastical. She is the only person who can help her ghostly friends and she might be the only person who can save the orchestra and her family. And she proves herself worthy of that responsibility several times over. But she also learns that she can rely on other people – even the ones she is most angry at. It’s a wonderful ghost story and a brilliantly resonant piece of contemporary fiction.
Reviewed from library copy