Author: Claire Legrand
Publication Date: August 27, 2013 (S&SFYR – North America)
Genre: YA, MG, Contemporary, Paranormal, Tough Stuff, Awesome
Source: Publisher-provided ARC
Summary: Olivia Stellatella is having a rough year.
Her mother left, her neglectful father — the maestro of a failing orchestra — has moved her and her grandmother into his 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.
☆: 4/5 stars – a book that MG desperately needs right now!
Review: This is a book that older MG/young YA desperately needs right now – a book that helps explain what Legrand calls “The Economy”, and how it’s affecting kids. “The Year of Shadows” is a book that is not only just a ghost story, but is also a very real story about kids in that late tween/early teen age range that is learning to deal in a new world that’s let them down, a new reality that has reset everything they’ve learned thus far about their lives, with some ghosts and a metaphor about moving on mixed in along the way.
Admittedly, this is my first Legrand book. I still have my ARC copy of her first book lying around, and I’m feeling like an idiot for not getting to her writing sooner. “Year of Shadows” has everything I look for in a wonderful book – awesome worldbuilding, character building, sensory imagery and language, and plot. It’s all here. And there’s also a real world connection – perhaps one of the most real I’ve seen in MG that’s also a supernatural story at the same time within the last few years. It’s not just a ghost story, nor is it just a tough issues book. Legrand blends both together perfectly – even the ghosts are having problems adjusting to their new reality (or in some of their cases, it’s been their reality for a long while). Which really fuels our story.
I loved Olivia. She was a wonderful MC, and the main cast was also very richly layered as well. No one was flat nor did they feel like things propping up Olivia or her story. Legrand did a fabulous job making a very relatable, sympathetic protagonist for an audience of any age. Legrand hits home with the tough stuff issues of having a mom that’s abandoned the family, a recession that’s forced the family still left behind into very narrow living quarters, and the question of a dream being a viable financial reality (among other things) all mixed in. And then there are the ghosts – stuck, because they can’t move on, trying to find the things that tie them to this world (their anchors). Just as Olivia is stuck with the rage against her mother leaving, these ghosts have their various circumstances that have them stuck in this world. Everything nicely lined up in parallels, and I loved all of the ghostly action as well.
Igor. Can I have him? Please? He’s one awesome cat. I could use a cat like that.
But back to the actual review.
What was perhaps the best part of the book was the way that all of these issues were represented. The ghosts’ pasts (and in one case, I won’t say who, our future) and Olivia’s present could be presented very strongly in the sensory and emotional arenas, but they weren’t overwhelming. They stopped one step short of overwhelming, which really helps all of those parallels line up even better, even easier. The world was built by these characters, and by their backstories, and in return, was further built upon by Olivia, Henry, Joan, and everything they were experiencing in the “real world” at the same time.
What was also great: the sensory input. My god, does Legrand know how to make music into a story, and a story into music. Some of the orchestral scenes literally gave me chills, because it felt like I was there. Everything felt clear – not one sense felt dulled or lacking. Seeing as Legrand is a musician as well as a writer, it makes sense that she’s able to interpret music into a story so well. And I’m glad she was able to do it. Music was the thing that held this story together in all of the technical and plot areas, and it was done so well, so elegantly, that I’m going to be digging out her first book out of my moving boxes ASAP.
My only small issue: there were some (very few) laggy bits in the book in terms of timing, but as I read an ARC copy, I’m hoping they got fixed or at least got one more look/edit before going to final pub.
Otherwise? This is a great book that shows how kids are growing up now, and what they can do, how they can choose to grow up within narrow and sad circumstances. Along with the help of awesome ghosts. I absolutely loved this one, guys, and I hope you do too. It’s definitely on my list of best of 2013. “The Year of Shadows” is out August 27, 2013 from Simon and Schuster for Young Readers in North America, so definitely check it out when you get a chance! This is one MG I think everyone will definitely dig, and be able to love.