The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand

the year of shadowsReading level: ~5.0
Genre: Paranormal
ELL-Friendly: Mostly
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

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.

The Year of Shadows may be the best book I’ve read this year, perhaps even surpassing Listening for Lucca. Claire Legrand has created the flawed yet darling character of Olivia who helps ghosts “move on” with the help of her friend Henry. And Igor the cat. Can’t forget the cat. Now, ghost stories in YA can be pretty hit or miss, but this book was definitely a hit. These ghosts remind us that each life is important and unique. Overall, the story teaches readers that life is hard for everyone in some way, and it’s sometimes best to team up with someone to get through those hard bits.

I loved Olivia instantly. She’s depressed, angry, scared, goth, rude, and talented. But she’s also broken. While I was frustrated at her for being mean to her father and friends who tried to be nice to her, I understood her anger and reactions. Olivia is clearly a good person at heart, which we witness as she gingerly takes care of Nonnie, her grandmother, and instantly falls in love with Igor. As she befriends Henry and Joan, we watch as she becomes less negative and rude while continuing to keep some sort of wall between herself and others. Finally, at the end, that wall breaks down.

I loved Henry, too. We’re made to dislike him at first, because Olivia hates him. But it doesn’t take long to appreciate that he is a genuinely good person who cares about Olivia, even when she is mean to him. He slowly chips away at her wall, and he doesn’t give up even when Olivia snaps at him.

The relationship between Henry and Olivia is precious. They are too young to be “in a relationship,” so we don’t get into the romance genre at all. More than anything, these two are friends, and I loved watching them come closer and closer. The sweetest scene was at the end when they lay under a tree, and Olivia reaches out one of her fingers to rest against Henry’s. And they just lay there.

While The Year of Shadows is a middle level book, it could be enjoyed my high schoolers, too, because the themes and situations are applicable to middle though high school. For instance, Olivia mourns the loss of her absent mother and father (who isn’t much of a parent anymore); Olivia and her father live in poverty, and she takes it upon herself to get a job and buy what she needs even though she’s only about twelve years old. Heavy stuff.

It is mostly ELL-friendly, and the vocabulary I worry most about are the words dealing with music, from instruments to names of musical pieces to composers’ names. It is also necessary to understand that Olivia calls her dad “Maestro” rather than “Dad” and that Maestro means conductor of the orchestra. Another key word to understand is “anchor,” but not like a boat anchor. The anchors in this story deal with objects that were precious to someone in life and is something that is preventing (weighing down) the ghost from moving on to the world of Death. Because Nonnie speaks Italian, there are some Italian words and phrases throughout. Most of these words are translated or are cognates of English. Otherwise, I could tell from context clues what Nonnie was trying to convey.

Since this book is still pretty new, it is not leveled through Scholastic. My best guess, with some help from Microsoft Word, is that it’s at approximately a 5th grade reading level.

The Year of Shadows is my eighteenth book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

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