Tuesday, April 25, 2017

2016 Cybils MG Finalist: Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

Eleven-year-old Finley Hart's parents haven't been getting along with each other for a while, and so they decide to send her to stay with her grandparents for the summer at Hart House while they decide what to do about their marriage. The only problem is that Finley has never met these grandparents before, because of some kind of riff between her father and his parents.

Not feeling particularly comfortable or welcomed, Finley is very afraid they will discover her secret - sometimes she has "blue days" to the point where she doesn't want to get out of bed. To cope with her parents failing relationship and her secret, Finley has made up a story about a magical kingdom called Everwood, which she writes about in her notebook. When she discovers the woods behind Hart House, it feels to her as though her fantasy tale has become reality. The woods become a place of refuge for her, a way to escape the Hart family, especially Grandma Hart, who just feels cold, distant, and judgmental to Finley.

Out in the woods one day, Finley runs into the three Bailey brothers. Before she knows it, she, her Hart cousins and the Bailey brothers are soon a part of her imaginary story, played out in the endless woods behind Hart House, where they discover the burnt shell of a home, with three graves behind it. They quickly nickname it the Bone House and now want to know what happened to the house and the people in it. The Hart cousins and Bailey brothers spend a lot of time playing in their "Everwood" and have kid-fun, until the day that they are caught together by Finley's grandfather. Finley and her cousins are forbidden to have anything to do with the Bailey family for reasons that are not explained.

Slowly, over the summer, as she become more familiar with her Hart family, Finley realizes she isn't the only one with a secret, the other Harts have their secrets, too. But it will take a near tragedy to uncover everyone's secrets.

Some Kind of Happiness is an interesting novel about a close knit family that presents a united, happy front to the world, but behind that front, there is a lot of unhappiness as well, and what keeps them together isn't necessarily family love, but the secrets known by some family members, but not by others.

Throughout the novel, Finley explores the idea "What It Means To Be A Hart, based on things overheard, thing observed and her own thoughts, which I actually found interesting and wondered what I would write down if I decided to do the same about my family. Also running through the novel are sections of the Everwood story. The fantasy Everwood sections, readers will soon notice, are really transparent literary versions of what is happening in Finley's life. And as the trees in Everwood begin to die off, Finley's blue days become more frequent and more serious. Will Finley allow people to help her help herself?

I commend Claire Legrand for writing a novel about depression and anxiety in young people. It is a serious problem. And yet, I never felt like she didn't really have a handle on Finley's depression and anxiety. Calling it her secret seemed odd to me. Also, why did it take her Grandmother to finally notice something was wrong? Didn't her parents pay any attention to her? My Kiddo went through a depression when she was around Finley's age and you couldn't miss it.

I was also disappointed in the big secret involving the Baileys and the Harts. I thought both Finley's depression/anxiety and the cause of the riff were written in such a way that they felt more like I was eating Cream of When instead of the nice, spicy salsa I was expecting and their impact got lost among the other things going on in the book. I felt badly that I could never muster up any empathy for Finley and her problems.

I was sorry this book didn't work for me, because I was looking forward to reading it. It was really beautifully written, and I think Legrand has a real way with words and phrases. Also, it is a long book, and I wonder how many Middle Grade readers would stick to it through to the end.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Simon & Schuster

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