The Year of Shadows

by Claire Legrand
First sentence: “The year the ghost came started like this:”
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Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils.
Content: There are ghosts and shades and it gets pretty scary. There’s also a lot of pre-teen Angst and a little bit of romance. For those reasons, even though it’s in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore, I’d probably hand it to the older end of the spectrum. But that’s just me.

Olivia hates her life. Her father — whom she less-than-affectionately calls the Maestro — is wholly absorbed with being the conductor of their town’s struggling orchestra. So involved that Olivia’s mother left. So involved that they sold their house and auctioned off their belongings and moved into the back rooms of the concert hall in order to keep the orchestra afloat. And for 13-year-old Olivia, this does not sit well. In fact, she loathes it. (Understatement of the century.)

She’s miserable, she’s basically homeless, and then… she discovers there are ghosts in the concert hall. Not just ghosts, but shades — ghosts that have given up the search for the chance to move on and given into Limbo — as well. And it’s the shades that are Dangerous. And it’s up to Olivia and her new friend Henry to help the ghosts move on and defeat the shades. And, perhaps, in the process maybe they can figure out how to save the concert hall and the orchestra.

I adored this book for lots of reasons. Olivia was dark and grumpy and prickly and perfect for a ghost story. I loved the musical setting for this — the concert hall, the strains of orchestral music (it needs a soundtrack!) running through the story; in the endnote, Legrand talks about choosing pieces to fit the mood of Olivia’s life, and being familiar with many of the pieces, I think she did fabulously. (I don’t know how non-musical readers would react to it, though. Would it make them want to go look up the pieces?) I enjoyed Henry and some of the other minor characters, with their New-Agey feel and their support of Olivia. Because the Maestro? He’s firmly in the bad parent camp. He’s not a “abusive/horrible/evil” dad, but rather the “neglectful/unobservant” dad. And I can understand Olivia’s anger towards him.

There is one quibble: there’s a plot twist near the end of the book that I didn’t feel was absolutely necessary. (And which added to the Maestro’s bad parent-ness.) I think Legrand needed it for plot purposes, but it felt like it was out of left field, and didn’t quite fit with the rest of the book.

Other than that, though, it was highly enjoyable.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

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