Review: The Year of Shadows

I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Year of ShadowsThe Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand
Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR on August 27, 2013
Genres: Horror, Paranormal
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central

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.

First Sentence: “The year the ghosts came started like this.”

First up, the disclaimer: yes, I know Claire Legrand and she’s awesome, but that did not influence my opinion of the book in any way. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Though I’ve had Claire’s debut novel, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls for over a year now, I’ve not managed to work it into my schedule, so I’m glad I’ve finally gotten to try her writing. Also, I’m pleased to say that I like her writing. Hurrah! Claire Legrand has written a beautiful, occasionally creepy story about a grumpy young girl who learns how to open up her heart and enjoy life again.

My second favorite aspect of The Year of Shadows is definitely the heroine. Olivia Stellatella is a delight, but which I mean she is a seriously grouchy, cynical kid. She may be young, but her life has been hard and it’s getting more difficult by the time. First, her mom abandoned her, then her dad got completely caught up in trying to save the orchestra for which he conducts, and now her family (Olivia, The Maestro (Dad, though she never calls him that because he made mom leave), and Nonnie (grandma)) has moved into the concert hall, living in two little rooms and making do with the makeshift kitchen. Olivia hates that she’s had to move here, worries that they won’t have enough food to eat, and shops at the thrift shop. Even worse, she knows that, if the orchestra’s ticket sales do not improve, it’s done after this season, meaning they’ll be even worse off because of The Economy. In other words, if this were a movie, Olivia would be played by either a young Winona Ryder or Christina Ricci.

Actually, that comparison is pretty accurate too. Much as I try to resist going too crazy with comparing books to other books or movies, I can’t resist this time. There are a lot of parallels to Casper but with some of the creepiness of Beetlejuice, but, of course, with some magic totally unique to Legrand’s vision. The ghosts are by turns horrifying and friendly. The shades pretty much reside in Creeptown, USA and Legrand’s Limbo is haunting.

Now, let’s go back. Remember how I mentioned that Olivia was my second favorite? Well, my favorite is Igor. He’s this cat who adopts Olivia, though she might tell you it happened the other way round. Olivia fancies that he speaks to her, and imagines that his voice sounds very like Cary Grant. Igor’s such a cat, with his helpful suggestions like this one: “I know what will make you feel better. Petting me. Better yet, asking for permission to pet me” (211). How can anyone not love a cat that just might talk like Cary Grant? Also, I credit Igor with getting the kids through everything and teaching Olivia how to love. He convinces her to give people another shot and nudges her in the right direction with his knowing cat ways.

Another aspect I adore is the music. In Claire Legrand’s bio, it says that she “was a musician until she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head.” Her love of music really shines in The Year of Shadows. Her descriptions of letting music wash over you are lyrical and moving. The dynamics of the band too are so apt, especially the depiction of the trumpet player. It’s wonderful when authors can work in some of their real life passions, because that emotion seeps into those sections in a way that really shows.

The ghost story element is well done, especially for the intended audience. With each ghost, there’s a little miniature story arc full of action and adventure, followed by a scavenger hunt of sorts, and what kid will not be all over that? I did have some minor quibbles with the way some of the logic worked, but, for the most part, I was able to sit back and enjoy the story.

Themes of family and friendship are also highly prevalent in The Year of Shadows. Though I think a lot of the right notes are struck here, I don’t think they’re held quite long enough or played with enough emotion. Legrand does a nice job establishing the friendship with Henry and Olivia, but their lunch table friend Joan comes and goes as is convenient in the story. Similarly, Henry never comes to any sort of realization about his bullying friend, though it seemed like that would be one of the impending plot points. With family too, resolutions seemed a bit too smooth and sudden, with the awkward moments skipped or glossed over. This might be a plus for younger readers, but I was hoping for those emotional wallops. Also, we’re sort of left hanging on what’s going to happen to Olivia next, and I’m wondering if she’s going to be okay.

Claire Legrand’s sophomore novel features lovely writing, both sassy and creepy ghosts, and a heartwarming tale of learning to let people in. The Year of Shadows is an excellent read for middle grade readers and for older readers who enjoy new twists on ghost mythologies.

Favorite Quote:

“The things that make you the most you can do that. When everything else is zoomy and hazy and doesn’t make sense, you at least have that. Your hobbies. Your dreams. You at least have your sketches, or your trumpet-playing, or your homework in its neat, color-coded folders labeled HENRY PAGE, SEVENTH GRADER.”

9 responses to “Review: The Year of Shadows”

  1. Sometimes I wonder if you and Giselle have very similar blogging schedules. I remember commenting on her review for this one recently, and the same happened for If You Could Be Mine and False Sight. 😛

    And because I am a pop culture fail, I don’t quite understand some of your movie references, but the creep factor sounds awesome. Also: “Igor’s such a cat, with his helpful suggestions like this one: ‘I know what will make you feel better. Petting me. Better yet, asking for permission to pet me’ (211).” Hehehe. Cats are adorable. And especially cat best friends.

    Ooh, music descriptions? Win.

    “With family too, resolutions seemed a bit too smooth and sudden, with the awkward moments skipped or glossed over.” <-- This seems to be a theme in a lot of the younger literature that I've read (which isn't actually a lot, but it seems to be one of the major problems of MG. How much is too much message and how much action do you need for the shorter attention span?)

  2. Amy says:

    I love the sound of this!! And dude, you mention Beetlejuice and Casper! Win!! The friendship between Henry and Olivia sounds good, but it’s too bad that some of the other ones are kind of glossed over and convenient to the story. Fabulous review.

  3. Shelver 506 says:

    Haha, “Creeptown, USA.” Also, Bringing Up Baby GIF, yay!

  4. Lili says:

    Yes. You made me really want to read this book now out of curiosity! Ah that is all <3

  5. Brandy says:

    I had some issues with the logic too. But. Awesome cat, beautiful music, wonderfully grumpy heroine, and creepy Gothic setting made me really enjoy it. I can’t let my daughter read it though because the death and depression themes would devastate her. Maybe in a couple of years.

  6. This sounds like such a fun and entertaining book to read! And I’m fairly certain that Igor the cat would be my favourite character as well… he sounds just like a cat. 😉 Thanks for sharing your review!

  7. Lyn Kaye says:

    I loved this book, and I am glad you were able to read it. I, too, pictured Christina Ricci from Capster! (Weird stuff). Igor was great. For once, a good, awesome cat character.

  8. Molli Moran says:

    You WIN the Internet, Christina. Really. MASTERFUL use of the Beetlejuice/Lydia GIF. Now I really can’t wait to read this one, because of your comparisons to Casper and Beetlejuice! I also love the sound of Olivia’s cat. And it’s awesome that you went into this one sorta blind to the hype around the author – and still liked it. That must mean it’s awesome. *fist bump*

    Lovely review, chica!

  9. Micheline D says:

    This is another one I’m really looking forward to reading so I’m happy to see another positive review for it! I haven’t read Legrand’s first book though it is on my TBR shelf, but this one is really drawing me in, especially by your description of Igor (♥) and the MC Olivia. It’s a shame though that a lot of MG reads lately seem to have a tendency to gloss over the more difficult bits, seems to me it would be a great medium for exploring this sort of thing further…womp womp. Excellent review!

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