posted at Tuesday, November 29th, 2016 at 12:00 PM | Middle Grade, Reviews
Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR on May 17, 2016
Amazon • The Book Depository
THINGS FINLEY HART DOESN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT
• Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.)
• Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer.
• Never having met said grandparents.
• Her blue days—when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.)
Finley’s only retreat is the Everwood, a forest kingdom that exists in the pages of her notebook. Until she discovers the endless woods behind her grandparents’ house and realizes the Everwood is real--and holds more mysteries than she'd ever imagined, including a family of pirates that she isn’t allowed to talk to, trees covered in ash, and a strange old wizard living in a house made of bones.
With the help of her cousins, Finley sets out on a mission to save the dying Everwood and uncover its secrets. But as the mysteries pile up and the frightening sadness inside her grows, Finley realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself.
Reality and fantasy collide in this powerful, heartfelt novel about family, depression, and the power of imagination.
Getting through Some Kind of Happiness took me a couple of weeks. It normally doesn’t take me that long to read something, and, generally, it’s a really bad sign when it happens. In this case, though, my slow pace allowed for greater appreciation: that’s why I let myself read multiple books at a time and read as much as I feel like at the moment. Some books are best binged and some sipped. Some Kind of Happiness is a bit of a departure from Legrand’s other offerings of fantasy and horror. It’s understated, emotionally resonant, and touching.
While I was reading Some Kind of Happiness, I attended a panel and signing that included Claire Legrand. It was a total coincidence that I was reading her book at the time. One of the people in the audience asked whether the authors wrote with an aim to specific themes and messages. Most said no, as that could easily come across heavy-handed and not make a good story. Claire responded that, in the case of Some Kind of Happiness, she did start with the intention of writing the story of a kid with anxiety and depression, so that children experiencing those things would realize that they’re not alone and that they’re not broken. While that message does come through loud and clear, Some Kind of Happiness doesn’t feel preachy or forced.
Finley Hart loves crossword puzzles, the independence her parents allow her as they pursue their own interests, and she knows that she has a pretty good life. Still, she feels sad and deeply worried sometimes. The one solution she’s found for her blue days is writing in her notebook about the Everwood, a magical forest protected by guardians. Some Kind of Happiness alternates between Finley’s life and her stories. She retreats there whenever she’s stressed or sad, and you can actually tell how she’s feeling by how often she writes in her notebook, and the tenor of the story when she does. In happier times, there will be a few chapters of what she’s doing and then one of her story. When things are really bad, there are snippets of fiction mixed into the chapters of narration. This blending of fiction and metafiction provides a window into Finley’s emotions, even when she’s not willing to look to closely. It also gives the reader a lens into the writing process, fantasy, and the way that fantastical stories actually reflect real world issues.
Finley’s deeply ashamed of her anxiety and depression, though that’s not what she calls them. She thinks she’s broken. Sent away to her previously un-met grandparents’ house for the summer while her parents try to repair their marriage, Finley worries that her issues, her brokenness, are part of why her family is falling apart. Being plopped into the midst of a deeply organized, large family she’s never met before, even if they’re close relations, exacerbates Finley’s feelings of discomfort. She feels unwanted and like she doesn’t fit with these shiny, perfect people. Try not to weep (I totally failed at that) when Finley thinks things like this:
People who meet me are bound to end up disappointed.
Finley finds solace, as she ever has, in the Everwood, brought to life in the forest behind the Hart family mansion. She and her cousins begin playing together secretly in the forest where they’re not allowed to go with the Bailey boys, with whom they are not allowed to associate. It’s a little paradise for all of them, and Finley learns about love and family. There are completely adorable little middle grade ships in here, and the friendships formed between the cousins are so sweet. I especially think it’s cute how little Dex and Ruth want desperately to be knights, but they also cannot stand up to parental interrogations.
This summer with her family is all about connection, about relating to other people and Finley coming to realize that, while she has anxiety and depression, that doesn’t mean she can’t live a great life or relate to other people. The parallel drawn between Finley and her grandmother, who is dealing with a physical illness, is beautiful and sad. The dynamic between Finley and her grandmother’s often painful, as her grandmother has such exacting standards and cares so much about public opinion. She cares, but she often shows that in ways that are deeply unhealthy, especially for Finley. It’s a nice example of how loving, involved parents can make poor choices too. The resolution is inspiring, while not romanticizing or simplifying any of the challenges facing the characters. Claire made me cry, both in sadness and happiness.
All of that I love. The one reservation I had were the references to Finley’s regular life. She mentions a friend and a couple things about how the day-to-day worked with her parents, but it’s really not enough to feel like a life. She thinks of her best friend back home just a couple of times. I don’t have a great sense of who non-Summer Finley is, and the references to her best friend highlighted how little I knew her. The island of summer is beautiful, but I did feel a disconnect at times from the real world.
I’m so glad that children with anxiety and depression have this book available. I’m sure it will change some lives for the better. Some Kind of Happiness is as beautiful and well-drawn as its cover.
If I am a puzzle, this is the moment in which I find the first corner piece.
Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy: