Monday, January 27, 2020

Some Kind of Happiness

Some Kind of Happiness
by Claire Legrand
Recommended Ages: 11+

Finley Hart, 11, has never met her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on her father's side until now. But her parents are having marital trouble, and while they try to work things out, they decide to let her spend the summer with the close-knit Harts.

This proves to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, most of them accept her quickly, and the other kids willingly join her in turning the forbidden woods behind their grandparents' house into an imaginary kingdom – the Everwood, a magical place Finley has been writing about in her journal for years. They also make friends with the three Bailey boys on the wrong side of the river. On the other hand, no one in the family will open up about what came between them and Finley's father. The defining characteristic of being a Hart increasingly seems to be the keeping of secrets, even at the risk of doing more harm than good. As Finley pushes the boundaries of what her grandparents will and won't tolerate, she becomes a party to more and more secrets, and moves ever closer to one central secret that could blow the whole family to pieces.

Meanwhile, Finley has her own secret – a shame she refuses to talk about, even when her grandparents make her visit a psychologist. She is ashamed of the fact that whatever reasons she may have for being happy, she is often unhappy – so very unhappy that there seems to be a weight on her chest, holding her down. She has blue days, when she can't seem to get out of bed. She has moments when she loses herself to fear. Sometimes, even escaping to the Everwood isn't enough.

This is part story about family secrets, part portrait of a child struggling with mood and anxiety issues, and partly the type of adventure that can only happen when a very imaginative child is turned loose on a bit of countryside dotted with atmosphere and history, and joined by playmates who are willing to get into the spirit of the thing. It is a heartbreakingly human tale that really, literally, made me cry. Specifically, I remember the spigots opening when Finley reads aloud to her grandfather a list of things she loves about her dad – how she hesitated at the last item and, at Grandpa's insistence, read the final item ("he looks like Grandpa") – and how that affected him. It is a passionate story that rises to an emotionally powerful climax when Finley finally opens up about all the family's secrets, including her own. And it is a beautifully written, perfectly crafted book by an author who obviously has it all going on in head and heart.

This book was on a list of titles recommeded by an acquaintance whose taste and judgment I have learned to trust. It did not disappoint. Legrand is also the author of the Empirium trilogy (Furyborn, Kingsbane and Lightbringer) and the young readers' novels The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, The Year of Shadows, Winterspell, Foxheart and Sawkill Girls.

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