Review: The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand

21 August, 2013 Reviews 13 comments

I received this book for free from Publisher 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 Shadows by Claire LegrandThe Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand
Series: Standalone
Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers on August 27th 2013
Pages: 405
Genres: Middle Grade, Paranormal Fantasy
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

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.

Middle Grade fiction and I don’t usually get along, which is funny considering their covers are the cutest things EVER. I am one of those people easily swayed by pretty covers and I just can’t help clicking that “To Read” button on Goodreads. What can I say? I have ZERO self-control. You should also know that I do not do Horror. Like, at all because I am a total scaredy cat who’s afraid of her own shadow. I sleep with a teddy bear and everything. But anyway, for The Year of Shadows I knew I had to give it a try because a) Legrand is pretty awesome and I like her style b) Dat cover, yo. You will notice this is how I select most of the books I read, which is not always as fail-proof as I’d like it to be. Unfortunately, Awesome Author does not always equal Awesome Book. But in this case, it totally does. The Year of Shadows tackles issues that I was surprised to see in a Middle Grade novel… and it does it so well.

The novel follows Olivia Stellatella, a kid who’s dealing with way more than anyone should have to deal with at her age. Her mother has left Olivia and her father, which causes a strained relationship between them. Her father’s failing Orchestra has left them severely in debt, causing Olivia, her grandmother and the Maestro himself to move into the very old Emerson Concert Hall. It doesn’t even have a shower. The horror. To make matters worse, Olivia has school troubles, and you can just imagine how all of these things combined can make for a very bitter kid. She’s not very kind to the Maestro even though he is obviously dealing with his own demons, the two friends that she does start to make, she pushes away, and she is kind of a brat. As Mr. Potato Head would say, “That ain’t no happy child.”

But the thing about Olivia is that you can’t help but feel for her situation. At times, she is a frustrating character because you want her to just open up already and give people a chance. But at the same time, I understand why she’s a loner and why she despises Emerson Hall and blames it partially for her mother’s departure. She’s a depressed, lonely kid just trying to survive when she discovers the ghosts haunting Emerson Hall. Through a few uncanny friendships, you can see Olivia’s’ growth as she slowly allows herself to heal. Or rather, she allows the friendships of the ghosts and her two friends to heal her.

Speaking of Olivia’s friends, Henry and Joan were fantastic. The one thing I sometimes miss when hanging out in YAland is the dynamic of friendships, because with YA, there is usually such a strong focus on romantic love. But I loved how Henry saw beyond Olivia’s facade and was there for her even when she pushed him away. I loved Joan and how she was all about getting involved with causes. Then there was also Igor, the cat, who Olivia may or may not have talked to in her head, dreamy Richard Ashley (fetch me my fainting couch!) and Olivia’s grandmother. These characters were adorable and I was so happy that Olivia had them.

My favorite setting would have to be The Happy Place, a coffee shop run by Mr. and Mrs. Barskey. (My Personal Happy Place generally involves my couch, ice cream and watching Pitch Perfect over and over while thinking of ways to then incorporate Pitch Perfect jokes into every conversation I have. A-ca-believe it! But I digress…) With its bright vibrant colors with equally colorful personalities of the couple that owned the establishment, it provided a much-needed ray of sunshine considering how depressing The Year of Shadows can be.  And it definitely had its dark moments when Olivia and Henry started “sharing” with the ghosts and learning about their pasts. Topics such as murder, The Great Depression and war are delicately presented in a way that was not overwhelming, but never lacking in severity. Mr. Worthington’s story tore me up inside. WHY, CLAIRE. WHY? ARE MY TEARS TASTY?

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Legrand also did a fabulous job with her descriptions, making Emerson Hall easily come to life in my head. But I especially loved the ones with the music.

It’s a strange feeling, when you hear a good piece of music. It starts out kind of shaky, this hot, heavy knot in your chest. At first it’s tiny, like a spot of light in a dark room, but then it builds, pouring through you. And the next thing you know, everything from your forehead down to your fingers and toes is on fire. You feel like the hot, heavy knot in your chest is turning into a bubble. It’s full of everything good in the world, and if you don’t do something–if you don’t run or dance or shout to everyone in the world about this music you’ve just heard–it’ll explode. – The Year of  Shadows ARC, page 183

And the descriptions went so well with the beautiful illustrations, which were not finished in my ARC copy. Pro Tip: Totally get a paper copy of this instead of reading the ebook if you can. From the chapter headings with Igor to the bordered page numbers, The Year of Shadows is all-around wonderfully crafted. I’m once again reminded why Middle Grade is often so special, because you don’t always get these cool extras in YA or even Adult fiction.

Overall, The Year of Shadows, is a fantastic novel with endearing characters, delicious descriptions and a captivating plot, making this one of my favorites of 2013. While aimed for the Middle Grade audience, it holds a complexity that will compel readers of all ages to flip pages late into the night.


Be sure to stop back here Friday (8/23) for a hilarious story interview written by Claire and a giveaway!

ARC was received from the publisher for an honest review. Thanks!

Steph Sinclair

Steph Sinclair

Co-blogger at Cuddlebuggery
I'm a bibliophile trying to make it through my never-ending To-Be-Read list, equal opportunity snarker, fangirl and co-blogger here at Cuddlebuggery. Find me on GoodReads.

13 Responses to “Review: The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand”

  1. bellesbookshelf

    This sounds great! I don’t read a lot of MG but this might be worth a go. That cover is awesome.

  2. LenaMarsteller

    Yeah!!! I have been hearing so many good things about this books…. I am not exactly ready for the sad parts of the book… but I am super excited for The Year of Shadows… Great honest reviews….. and don’t worry Steph, I  am a totally sucker for book covers as well when trying to choose a book to read…

  3. Lisa FicTalk

    LOL @ “fetch me my fainting couch”… that sounds very victorian. 
    I’m so glad you liked it, Steph. I’m def looking forward to reading it. 
    Question: would the hardcover copy also have the illustrations? Trying to decide which copy to get. Thanks!

  4. MsJessR

    I should have known this one would be a great one, but I’m so glad to see that it really is. A main character with real depth, actual FRIENDS, vivid writing… I knew I had good reason to get excited about it! Plus those illustrations sound fantastic. It’s true, middle grade often gets kick-butt visual additions to the books that I personally think just add to the story. Definitely can’t wait to see these ones!

  5. Steph Sinclair

    Lisa FicTalk Hahaha! He was such a smooth character for MG fiction. I thought it was so cute that Olivia described him as “dreamy” like it was apart of his name. 
    And, yes! The hardcover will have the beautiful drawings.

  6. Steph Sinclair

    MsJessR Yes, friends! So refreshing to see that. 🙂 I’m such a visual person, so I get really excited when I see pretty covers or beautiful illustrations. I’ll have to check out the finished copy for myself to see the drawings.

  7. alexalovesbooks

    This book sounds fantastic! I haven’t read any of Claire’s books yet, but this sounds perfectly whimsical. It’s wonderful that you ended up enjoying it! Glad it lives up to that pretty cool cover 🙂

  8. cynicalsapphire

    How did I not know you couldn’t handle horror? IT’S LIKE I DON’T KNOW YOU AT ALL. EVERYTHING WE ARE IS A LIEEEEEE!
    Anywhoodle, also, selecting based on the cover should be fail-proof. Even if that would send bad messages to the children. SHHHH, we do not care about them. Let me be vain and skin-deep and read beautiful books that match shiny outsides, damn it.
    Living without a shower is unacceptable.
    So…we need to watch Pitch Perfect while you are in Atlanta? 
    That is such a pretty quote. I’ve loved it all of the times I’ve read it, which is like 4 (two blogs and twice when I was reading the book).


  9. Steven

    At the point when I shut my eyes and imagine the stars, I’m put in a daze, where me and the stars dance together.

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