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The Year of Shadows

by Claire Legrand

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1315162,867 (3.94)2
Forced to move into a haunted concert hall with her distant father, "The Maestro," and aging grandmother, Nonna, twelve-year-old Olivia and classmate Henry try to lay to rest ghosts tied to the Hall's past before time and money run out.
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Olivia Stellatella’s life seems to be falling apart. Her mother left home, and her father, the Maestro, pays more attention to his struggling orchestra than to Olivia. In order to keep the orchestra afloat financially, the Maestro sells their house, forcing Olivia, her father, and grandmother to move into the back rooms of the decaying concert hall. However, Olivia and her family are not the only occupants; there are are four ghosts haunting the hall, and they need Olivia’s help.

This is a nice, bittersweet novel about dealing with loss, moving on, and learning to open up again. Olivia is an excellently drawn character, and comes off as a real 12 year old. It’s easy to sympathize with her situation and her actions come off as very understandable, if petulant at times. The side characters are well developed as well, including Olivia’s classmate Henry and the four main ghost characters. Igor, Olivia’s cat, is also really memorable, with Olivia imagining his perfectly cat-like dialogue.

Olivia and Henry are tasked with helping the four ghosts who haunt the concert hall move on, by helping each find his or her “anchor” to the living world. This is partly accomplished by “sharing” with each ghost, a neat concept in which the ghost relives the relevant memory. There’s one weird sharing that takes Olivia and Henry to a war-torn future, as apparently ghosts don’t experience time linearly. The implications of this are never fully addressed, instead serving to help Olivia move on with her own life.

This is a good middle-grade novel, and more sweet than creepy. The ending is suitably uncertain, but the story is ultimately about Olivia, and what’s important is that she’s once again whole.

A review copy was provided through the goodreads.com first reads program. ( )
  lisally | Mar 5, 2014 |
Come on, Book Depository! Hurry up!!!
  Isa_Lavinia | Sep 10, 2013 |
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. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Aug 16, 2013 |
I... I'm sorry, I need a moment. I'm still working through all my crazy, flaily feelings over this book. If any of you have read The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls and were worried that Ms. Schwab might not be able to live up to her smash debut, worry no more! Though Shadows isn't on the same level of freaky horror as Cavendish it excels in the same gothic, touching, heartfelt tone as its predecessor.

READ THE REST OF THE REVIEW AT: http://shelversanon.blogspot.com/2013/07/review-year-of-shadows-by-claire-legran... ( )
  Shelver506 | Jul 29, 2013 |
(Advance Reader Copy)

Twelve-year-old Olivia Stellatella is a loner. Black is her color of choice, and she prefers the company of her ever-present sketchbook to that of her peers at school. It's been a difficult year, what with "The Economy" and all. Olivia doesn't know exactly what "The Economy" means, only that in her case, it means that she now shops at the "charity store" and the orchestra that her father conducts may go out of business, taking his job with it. And her mom has left, an occurrence she blames solely on the Maestro. If that sounds bad, just wait; it gets worse. Having spent all the family funds on the Philharmonic, the family's new "home" is the backstage area of the crumbling Emerson Hall, home of the Philharmonic orchestra.

Initially, her only "friend" is the peculiarly intuitive and communicative cat, Igor.

"The cat rolled over at looked at me upside down. "Who's the Maestro?" I rolled over on my back too. Staring at him like this made my head hurt, but it was kind of fun. "Well, technically, he's half my DNA. But I don't like to think about that."

The cat blinked slowly, like he was already half asleep.

"I mean, I guess, yeah, he's my father." I made quotation marks with my fingers. "On paper, maybe. But not to me. I've disowned him, I guess you could say. " I paused, tapping my feet together. "Everyone at school thinks I'm crazy these days, you know. Because of my clothes and because I draw all the time instead of talking to people. I guess by talking to a cat I'm proving them right." "

Until she makes an unlikely friend in Henry, the "perfect" kid from school.

""Hey, cool," a voice said from above. "You found a cat."

I scrambled up into a sitting position and faced the voice: red hair, tons of freckles, stupid ears that stuck out.

Henry Page.

Ugh."

Together, Olivia and Henry meet the other inhabitants of Emerson Hall - ghosts, or more specifically, the affable Frederick, the mysterious Mr. Worthington, and the close yet strangely disconnected pair, Tillie and Jax. Frederick and friends may be friendly, but they are desperate as well. Desperate to move on to the world of Death. And there are other more dangerous things than these ghosts haunting Emerson Hall.

If the orchestra cannot make enough money, the hall will be demolished. If the hall is demolished, Olivia and her ghostly friends will become homeless. Olivia believes that perhaps by helping set the ghosts on their way, she can begin to find her own way. In the process, she learns that sometimes, it is only by looking outward to the plights and concerns of others, that we can begin to understand our own.

The Year of Shadows is a dark and gripping tale that is not without humor, supplied primarily by the wryly comedic cat, and the antics of Joan, Olivia's classmate and resident intermediate school protest performer. Olivia has just the right amount of sass and sarcasm for a troubled, but ultimately good, young girl. Goth-lite for middle school readers.

The publisher's site suggests The Year of Shadows for Grades 3-7. I would suggest Grades 4-8, depending on the reader.

Look closely at the cover art for The Year of Shadows and in addition to Olivia and Igor, you will see Frederick, Mr. Worthington, Tillie and Jax.

Coming to a shelf near you, August 27, 2013 ( )
  shelf-employed | Jun 10, 2013 |
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Forced to move into a haunted concert hall with her distant father, "The Maestro," and aging grandmother, Nonna, twelve-year-old Olivia and classmate Henry try to lay to rest ghosts tied to the Hall's past before time and money run out.

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