The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand – Advance Review

The Year of Shadows

Book Jacket:

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.


What a lovely surprise this book is. I really didn’t know what this story was going to be – from cover to jacket copy, it could have gone a million different ways – but what it was, was the one thing I did not expect. Even now, having read it, I still find it defies easy categorization, but I can tell you this: this story made me smile and made me cry, and just owned me start to finish. A lovely, lovely story.

And I think the reason this book works so very well is because, in terms of emotional honestly, this book just NAILS it. From page one, I got Olivia – prickly and antisocial and rude, yet still completely and wonderfully sympathetic because I understood the whys of each and ever bit of it. I understood why she was in retreat from life, why she was throwing up walls topped with razor wire to keep people out even though she was terribly lonely, why she was so very angry, particular with The Maestro, and why she was afraid – and of course it made perfect sense that the first people she would feel close to, and let back in, would be ghosts, just like she is (figuratively speaking). All of it, every ungainly feeling Olivia was wrestling with, was just TRUE – and seeing Olivia in such emotional technicolor made her vibrant and real and imperfect and wonderful from the start.

And in terms of emotion, wow does this book put Olivia through the wringer. She literally has her whole life upended (before the ghosts even show up) and is left virtually alone to deal with really hard things, like loss and change and letting go – and yet, despite how it sounds, it does all come together in a surprisingly uplifting way. I think to call this story dark is a misnomer – I think Olivia likes to think of herself as dark, as it’s her tough black-tinted armor against the world, but this is not a somber or angsty tale; and likewise, while there is plenty of literal darkness to be found, in terms of spooky, shadowy, ghostly dealings, this is not a dark Halloween night type of story – all in all this book is a story about hope, and life, and the people we care about. So while there are indeed scary haunts in this story, Olivia’s particular ghosts are actually people too – and the stories of their lives (and deaths) are surprisingly real and heart-wrenching. This story just felt very real and grounded to me, despite those oddball, wacky ghosts (who I loved), and Igor too (Olivia’s snarky, lazy, sort-of-talking cat), and all together I know it sounds like a bizarre mishmash of orchestral accompaniment, a cacophony that should not work, but this story is a symphony indeed. And I loved it.

I think the thing about this book that still surprises me is just how moving it is. Someone somewhere (I think the artist, maybe) described this book as a heartfelt adventure, and that is it, entirely – there is adventure and exploration and discovery and silliness to be found here, and yet, at the end of the day, this book will just sneak up on you and ambush you with its heartfelt-ness. It’s like… You remember E.T.? Like that. So how Legrand managed to make a story of life and death so deft and light, I still can’t fathom – and yet, she did.

A perfectly middle grade adventure, The Year of Shadows is still hard for me to explain – but it has heart and soul and life, and I think it might just be exactly what you need.

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews says:

As in The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (2012), Legrand shows twin knacks for creating creepy supernatural elements and thoroughly scary experiences for her central characters. Though here she forces an overly tidy resolution, she also cleverly integrates the storylines to leave the ghosts, the orchestra’s future, and her rude, surly but also admirably courageous protagonist in happier places.

Xpresso Reads says:

…a novel full of magic, mystery, life, and family. If you enjoy MG novels with a dark vibe that manages to be both sad and beautiful, this is one you should put on your list!