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The Year of Shadows

Press: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (August 27, 2013)
Publication Date:2013-8
Author Name:Legrand, Claire; Kwasny, Karl;


Olivia wants a new life—and it might take ghosts to get it. 
A heartfelt, gently Gothic novel from Claire Legrand.Olivia Stellatella is having a rough year.
Her mother’s left, her neglectful father—the maestro of a failing orchestra—has moved her and her grandmother into the city’s 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.

From Booklist

Olivia has known the music hall where her father, the maestro, conducts the symphony her whole life. 
But she never dreamed of living there.
Now, with her mother mysteriously gone, the symphony on the brink of ruin, and her father emotionally distant and probably losing his marbles, it’s the only place left where she and her family can stay, and with the sudden appearance of a gang of ghosts, it has become a real nightmare.
Luckily, the four friendly phantoms just want some help finishing their unfinished business.
Not so friendly, however, are the shades—harmful ghosts who have given up hope of ever finding closure—which are swarming the music hall and doing real damage.
Meanwhile, Olivia has to learn how to accept the help of friends and have faith in her own future despite her difficult present.
Legrand (The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, 2012) has created a horror-tinged tale of triumph over loss and the destructive nature of hopelessness, that is full of well-rounded characters, a spooky gothic mood, and eerie glimpses into the past lives of the ghosts.
Grades 6-9.
--Sarah Hunter


"Claire LeGrand’s fantastically spooky The Year of Shadows will keep you  turning its pages well into the night, even though the floorboards are  creaking and funny shapes lurk in the corner of your eye. 
Such is the allure of tempestuous, terrific Olivia, the complex and utterly real heroine who is suffering from one misfortune and indignity too many--and that's before the ghosts arrive.
Though we soon see that sometimes ghosts are the least of the things that haunt us, the book assures us that with spirit and hope we can create light in the most shadowy of places.
Also, like all the best books, it has a really great cat." (Anne Ursu, author of BREADCRUMBS and THE REAL BOY)"A sad, happy, strange book, with some of the most memorable ghosts I’ve ever read.
It’s full of shadows, but it’s also full of sparks and light and big, glowing scenes, and while it’ll break your heart more than once, it somehow manages to glue it all back together by the end.
I loved it." (Stefan Bachmann, author of THE PECULIAR and THE WHATNOT)PRAISE FOR THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS "The combination of the Stepford-like town and the atmospheric home provide a deliciously creepy backdrop to this precise blend of dark humor and genuine horror.
Victoria is .
oddly endearing, and readers with their own color-coordinated planners will thrill to see her leadership skills and sheer determination save the day." (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books)The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is weirdly charming and creepy.
I loved the intrepid girl hero Victoria and her determination to save her best friend from the scariest Home ever.
An enormously fun--and shivery--read.
(Sarah Prineas, author of The Magic Thief series)"A heartwarming friendship tale—played out amid carpets of chittering insects, torture both corporal and psychological, the odd bit of cannibalism and like ghoulish delights.
A thoroughgoing ickfest, elevated by vulnerable but resilient young characters and capped by a righteously ominous closing twist." (Kirkus, starred review)"The too-serene-to-be-true town of Belleville harbors some creepy secrets in Legrand's debut, a sinister and occasionally playful tale of suspense.
Legrand gives Victoria's mission a prickly energy, and her descriptions of the sighing, heaving home—a character in itself—are the stuff of bad dreams.
Watts's b&w illustrations of spindly characters, cryptic shadows, and cramped corridors amplify the unsettling ambiance, and her roach motif may have readers checking their arms." (Publisher's Weekly)"Insidiously creepy, searingly sinister, and spine-tinglingly fun, this book also presents a powerful message about friendship and the value of individuality." (Joy Fleishhacker School Library Journal)

From the Inside Flap

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 the city's 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.

About the Author

Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. 
Now Ms.
Legrand is a full-time writer living in New Jersey.
She has written two middle grade novels—The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, one of the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2012, andThe Year of Shadows—as well as the young adult novelWinterspell.
Visit her at Claire-Legrand.comand on Twitter @ClaireLegrand.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Year of Shadows   THE YEAR THE ghosts came started like this: The Maestro kicked open the door, dropped his suitcase to the floor, and said, “Voilà!” “I’ve seen it before,” I said. 
In fact, I’d basically grown up here, in case he’d forgotten.
“Yes, but take a look at it.
Really look.” He said this in that stupid Italian accent of his.
I mean, he was full Italian and all (I was only half), but did he have to sound so much like an Italian? I crossed my arms and took a good, long look.
Rows of seats with faded red cushions.
Moth-eaten curtains framing the stage.
The dress circle boxes, where the rich people sat.
Chandeliers, hanging from the ceiling that was decorated with painted angels, and dragons, and fauns playing pipes.
The pipe organ, looming like a hibernating monster at the back of the stage.
Sunlight from the lobby behind us slanted onto the pipes, making them gleam.
Same old Emerson Hall.
Same curtains, same seats, same dragons.
The only thing different this time was us.
And our suitcases.
“Well?” the Maestro said.
“What do we think?” He was on one side of me, and Nonnie on the other.
She clapped her hands and pulled the scarf off her head.
Underneath the scarf, she was almost completely bald, with only a few straggly gray hairs left.
The day Mom disappeared about nine months ago, just before Christmas, Nonnie had shaved all her hair off.
“Oh!” Her wrinkled face puckered into a smile.
“I think it’s beautiful.” My fingers tightened on the handle of my suitcase, the ratty red one with the caved-in side.
“You’ve seen it before, Nonnie.
We all have, a million times.” “But is different now!” Nonnie twisted her scarf in her hands.
“Before, was symphony hall.
Now, is home.
È meglio.” I ground my teeth together, trying not to scream.
“It’s still a symphony hall.” “Olivia?” The Maestro was watching me, smiling, trying to sound like he really cared what I thought.
“What do you think?” When I didn’t answer, Nonnie clucked her tongue.
You should answer your father.” The Maestro and I didn’t talk much anymore.
Not since Mom left, and even for a couple of months before that, when he was so busy with rehearsals and concerts and trying to save the orchestra by begging for money from rich people at fancy dinners that he wouldn’t come home until late.
Sometimes he wouldn’t come home at all, not until the next morning when Mom and I were in the kitchen, eating breakfast.
Then they would start yelling at each other.
I didn’t like breakfast much after that.
Every time I looked at cereal, I felt sick.
“He’s not my father,” I whispered.
“He’s just the Maestro.” I felt something change in that moment.
I knew I would never again call him “Dad.” He didn’t deserve it.
Not after this.
This was the last straw in a whole pile of broken ones.
“Ombralina . . . ,” Nonnie scolded.
Little shadow.
It was her nickname for me.
The Maestro stood there, watching me with those black eyes of his.
I hated that we shared the same color eyes.
I could feel something building inside me, something dangerous.
“I think I’m going to throw up,” I announced.
Then I turned and ran outside, my suitcase banging against my legs.
Out through the lobby, past the curling grand staircases and the box office window, and onto the sidewalk.
Right out front, at the corner of Arlington Avenue and Wichita Street, I threw down my suitcase and screamed.
The traffic sped by—cars, trucks, cabs.
People pushed past me—office workers out for lunch, grabbing sandwiches, talking on their phones.
Nobody noticed me.
Nobody even glanced my way.
Same old Emerson Hall.
Same curtains, same seats, same dragons.
The only thing different this time was us.
And our suitcases.Since Mom left, not many people noticed me.
I wore black a lot now.
I liked it; black was calming.
My hair was long, and black too, and shiny, and I wore it down most of the time.
I liked to hide behind it and pretend I didn’t exist.
I couldn’t decide if I wanted to cry or hit something, so I turned back to Emerson Hall’s double oak doors.
Stone angels perched on either side, playing their trumpets.
Someone had climbed up there and spray-painted the angels orange and red.
I squinted my eyes, trying to imagine the Hall’s blurry shape into something like a home.
But it didn’t work.
It was still a huge, drafty music hall with spray-painted angels, and yet I was supposed to live here now.
“Might as well go back in.” I kicked open the door as hard as I could.
“Not like there’s anywhere else to go.” Our rooms were two empty storage rooms backstage: one on one side of the main rehearsal room, and one on the other side.
There was also a cafeteria area with basic kitchen stuff like a sink, microwave, mini-fridge, and hot plate.
It used to be for the musicians, so they could break for lunch during a long day of rehearsals.
Not anymore, though.
It was our kitchen now.
The Maestro, Nonnie, and I hauled our suitcases backstage—one for each of us, and that’s all we had in the world, everything we owned.
The Maestro disappeared into the storage room that would be his bedroom and started blasting Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no.
4 on the ancient stereo that had been there for years.
The speakers crackled and popped.
Tchaik 4—that’s what the musicians called it—was the first piece of music on the program that year.
Rehearsals would start soon.
Nonnie carefully arranged her suitcase in the middle of the rehearsal room, surrounded by stacked chairs, music stands, and the musicians’ lockers, lining the walls.
She perched on her suitcase and waved her scarf at me.
Then she started humming, twisting her scarf around her fingers.
Nonnie didn’t do much these days but hum and twist her scarves.
I sat beside her for the longest time, listening to her hum and the Maestro blast his music.
I felt outside of myself, distant and floaty, like if I concentrated too hard on what was happening, I might totally lose it.
The tiny gusts of ice-cold air I kept feeling drift past me didn’t help.
Great, I thought.
It’s already freezing in here, and it’s not even fall yet.
This couldn’t be happening.
Except it was.
Nonnie and I each had tiny cots that came with sheets already on them.
I wasn’t sure where the Maestro had bought them, but I didn’t trust strange sheets, so I took them down the street to the coin laundry and remade the beds.
That put me in an awful mood.
Buying the detergent and paying for the laundry had cost us a few bucks, and every few bucks was precious when you didn’t have a lot to begin with.
Nonnie and I also each had a quilt.
Mom had made them during one of her crafty phases when she’d spread out all sorts of things over the kitchen table after dinner—fabrics, scissors, spools of thread, paper she’d brought home from her office.
The Maestro came into our bedroom while I was spreading out the quilts over our cots.
“You should get rid of those ratty old things,” he said.
“This is my and Nonnie’s bedroom.” I kept smoothing out my quilt, not looking at him.
“And you should get out.” He was quiet, watching me.
“I have some money for you.
If you want to go get some things for your room, school supplies.
School starts soon, doesn’t it?” “Yeah.” I took the crumpled twenty from him.
“You should get out.” After a minute, he did.
When the beds were made, I found some boxes in the rehearsal room that didn’t look too old or beat-up.
I also found a couple of old pianos, rickety music stands, chairs with shattered seats.
All the broken stuff.
I refused to live out of my suitcase.
It was too depressing.
I stacked my clothes in one box and Nonnie’s clothes in another box and arranged them at the ends of our beds, on their sides with the flaps like cupboard doors.
Then I shoved our suitcases under the beds so we wouldn’t have to look at them.
I lugged a couple of music stands to our bedroom and put them beside each of our beds, lying their tops flat like trays, so we could have nightstands.
On my “nightstand,” I carefully arranged my sketchpad and my set of charcoals and drawing pencils.
It all looked so sad, sitting there next to my fold-up cot in my bedroom that had ugly concrete walls because it was never meant to be a bedroom.
Nonnie came up behind me and hugged my arm.
She could always tell when I was upset.
“Maybe we need more color in these rooms,” she suggested.
Maybe.” I couldn’t stop thinking about our old house uptown, the pretty red-brick one with the blue door.
The one we’d had to sell because the Maestro had taken a pay cut and we couldn’t afford to live there anymore.
Because the orchestra didn’t have any money, so the Maestro couldn’t get paid as much as he used to.
Because he’d auctioned off everything we owned so he could plug more money into the orchestra to keep it alive.
I hated the orchestra, and Emerson Hall, and everything associated with either of those things—including the Maestro—more than I could possibly put into words.
So I drew the hate instead.
I drew everything.
That’s why my sketchpad got a place of honor right beside my bed.
“I’ll be back later, Nonnie.” I shoved the Maestro’s money into my pocket, tied one of Nonnie’s scarves over my hair, and slammed on my sunglasses—the glamorous, cat-eyed ones Mom had bought for me.
Like those actresses from the black-and-white movies wore, like Audrey Hepburn and Lauren Bacall.
Mom loved those movies.
“They’re so elegant,” she’d say, hugging me on the sofa while we sipped milk through crazy straws.
“You know? The way they talk and walk and dress.
It’s like a dream.” “Uh-huh.” I didn’t get what the big deal was about Cary Grant.
I thought he talked kind of funny, honestly.
But I’d say whatever Mom wanted to hear.
It made me kind of sick, to think about that now.
How did I never see it, right there in front of me? That someday she would leave me? I shut my eyes on that thought and pretended to squeeze it away.
I didn’t like feeling mad at Mom, like if I got too mad, she’d sense it.
She’d be right outside with her suitcase, ready to come back to us, and then she’d feel how mad I was and change her mind.
She’d walk away, forever this time.
It was easier to get angry at the Maestro.
After all, if it wasn’t for him, Mom might still be around.
“Where are you going, ombralina?” Nonnie asked as I headed out the door.
“Shopping.” If the Maestro wouldn’t take care of us, I would.
And if he wouldn’t give me and Nonnie a real home, I’d do my best to make us one.
There was this charity store right off Arlington at Clark Street.
It had a soup kitchen and a food store, clothes, and household goods.
I walked there as fast as possible, huddling beneath my scarf and sunglasses.
If I had to go there, no way was anyone going to recognize me.
The thought of going there made me want to smash things, or maybe just huddle up in Mom’s quilt and never come out.
I’d never had to shop at a charity store before.
No one I knew had ever had to either.
I’d have to go back to school in two days being the girl who shops at a charity store.
On top of the girl whose father is going crazy, who draws weird pictures all the time, who lives in a symphony hall like some kind of stray animal.
The girl whose mom left.


Children's Books,Holidays & Celebrations,Halloween,Growing Up & Facts of Life,Family Life,Multigenerational,Parents

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Comment List (Total:13)

  •     Love the book. Wish there was a movie

  •     Olivia is not having the best year. Her mother left her with no explanation with her father and her father is too busy conducting his orchestra to care about her.

  •     I had a friend recommend this book to me, and while I normally don't read ghost stories, I figured it would be worth a shot. For some reason I often find myself enjoying well-written YA literature more than most adult literature -- YA literature isn't afraid to experiment and get creative, and as a bonus is often a good deal cleaner; whereas most adult literature recycles the same handful of plots over and over, and much of it thinks it needs gratuitous sex, gore, profanity, and general grossness to be "adult" or "literary." *steps off soap box*"The Year of Shadows" is more than just a ghost story -- while the supernatural elements are certainly creative and well done, the heart of the story deals with grief and loss, and gives us a broken but brave heroine with a strong voice and real progression as a character."The Year of Shadows" follows Olivia Stellatella, who lives in the back rooms of the run-down orchestra hall with her grandmother and the Maestro (who she refuses to call Dad) after her mother vanishes and the family is forced to sell their home. She's still struggling with her mother's disappearance and her father's withdrawal from the family, and so withdraws herself, becoming a loner at school and immersing herself in her artwork. But despite her efforts, she starts to attract company -- an overly-friendly classmate/usher named Henry, a cantankerous cat she names Igor... and four ghosts. The ghosts aren't just hanging around to haunt her and the hall, however -- they need her help to find what's trapping them in the world of the living and find their way to the other side. Reluctantly, Olivia agrees, and ends up pitting herself against fearsome shades in her quest to help her ghostly friends... as well as her own feelings of resentment and anger towards her father. And perhaps, indirectly, through helping the ghosts, she can find closure with her own past...Kids and younger teens who enjoy ghost stories will find plenty to delight them here. Claire Legrand's take on the spirit world is creatively done -- not entirely fitting with the Christian view of the afterlife but unique to itself, with an afterlife, a human world, and a sort of "lost" world called Limbo in between. The rules that keep ghosts bound to our world feel logical and well thought-out, and the story's rules stay internally consistent throughout. Nothing bothers me more than a fantasy novel that sets down rules for its magic or otherworldly elements, only to break said rules without warning or reason.Accompanying the ghost story is a very real and heartfelt exploration of a young girl lost in a family crisis -- not just her and her father's grief over her vanished mother, but financial straits and the real threat of homelessness hanging over the family. The descriptions of the shabby, crumbling orchestra hall and its well-meaning but untalented orchestra drive this home further, but thankfully the book doesn't dwell on this so long that it crushes all sense of hope out of the story. The book is realistic in that respect, but at the same time maintains a note of hope, something to keep the main characters fighting for a better future.Speaking of characters... it was a joy to get to know Olivia, Henry, the four ghosts, and even the minor characters in this story. They feel fleshed-out and believable, with even the "Soapbox Sadie" activist character made likable and welcoming instead of obnoxious and grating. And while there are moments when one wants to reach into the book and shake Olivia and tell her off for being an angry brat, I feel that her anger is... not justified, but certainly understandable given her life and family circumstances. The author is careful to balance out her anger and sadness with positive emotions and traits, so that our main character feels real but not unlikable. (On a side note, the author makes Igor the cat a delightful character on his own -- he's no Disney-esque talking animal, but Olivia assigns him a mental "voice" of his own by translating his body language to words, similar to what was done for the reindeer Sven in "Frozen.")The book is sprinkled with black-and-white illustrations depicting important scenes, and these are quite well-done. It almost makes me wonder if, perhaps, "The Year of Shadows" would have worked well as a graphic novel, though of course it's a perfectly enjoyable book on its own.Great for older kids and younger teens, "The Year of Shadows" is a ghost story with a deeply emotional human story at its heart. Anyone who's dealt with a loss or crisis in their lives will be able to identify with Olivia, and kids will enjoy getting to know her as much as they enjoy the spooky ghost elements. Highly recommended.

  •     The Year of Shadows by Claire LegrandSimon & Schuster, 2013Fantasy410 pagesRecommended for grades 4-7This year I've read around 100 middle...

  •     Claire Legrand's "The Year of Shadows" is an atypical middle school book that despite its length is one that readers of all ages should enjoy.

  •     In The Year of Shadows, Claire Legrand has produced a worthy follow-up to her excellentThe Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

  •     Shadows is a tale with memorable imagery of ghosts empowered to free themselves of earthly boundaries by kind-hearted and risk-taking kids. My middle school students loved the concept of the major characters being spirits, and the found the end satisfying! Claire Legrand turns some beautiful phrasing that keeps the pages turning and a word-living reader engaged. My favorite surprise at the end is the list of music referenced which shows that Legrand also is a true master musician who is determined to share her motivation toward song with her young fans. It's an extraordinary book for an intelligent reader!

  •     I consider this reading year (although it has just began) extremely successful because it is the year I discovered Claire Legrand.

  •     Originally reviewed at http://www.shaelit.com/2013/07/review-the-year-of-shadows-by-claire-legrand/The star of the show is Olivia Stellatella, a half-Italian...

  •     I guess it was the Tim Burton-ish cover that drew me to this, but I'm glad my curiosity got the best of me, as I really enjoyed this unique take on the afterlife, with a relatable heroine at the helm.Olivia is a goth girl who is forced to move into a failing symphony hall, along with her grandma and her father, who is the maestro at the hall. Her mother disappeared a year or so before the events of the book, and she blames her dad for her disappearance, as well as their unhappy circumstances. But when she finds out the hall is haunted by some friendly ghosts, she takes it upon herself to help them move on into the afterlife, and in the process, gains new friends, a new sense of self worth and confidence, and finds out just what happened to her mom.The author clearly has a love of music, as many famous musicians and their symphonies are referenced throughout, making me want to track down the music and listen to it as I read the story. And although Olivia is a fairly pessimistic person at the start, many people can relate to her struggle as she finds herself dealing with a situation virtually out of her control, and how she overcomes unbelievable odds to achieve a happy ending. As she says at one point, "If I can help these ghosts, then maybe that'll prove I can do just about anything." She hides her pain and anger; expressing it through her dark, but beautiful artwork.All the ghosts are a fun bunch to get to know, even if their revealed backstories are tragic (they ARE dead after all). And interestingly enough, there really aren't any clear "villains" in this story. Her dad can come off as inattentive and cold at times, but slowly but surely, as we learn more about him, he gains a bit of sympathy. The sad situation itself is the real obstacle to overcome. Even the "Shades"-ghosts that've turned into mindless beasts because they didn't reach the afterlife soon enough-(the closest the book has to villains) can't be completely blamed for what they do. For they too, are in a situation out of their control.The book ends on a bitter sweet, but still hopeful note, leaving the audience with a poignant lesson in relying on friends and family, as well as believing in yourself and your self worth, to take a bad situation and turn it around. Highly recommended. ^^

  •     Love this book! Smart writing and fun for all ages!

  •     It was a nice story. Not very exciting and a little wishy washy. I guess you really have to like classical music to understand some of the things they talk about in this book.

  •     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.


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