Some Kind of Happiness

somekindofhappiness

Some Kind of Happiness
Claire Legrand
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
May 2016

When Finley’s parents need some time alone to work things out – i.e., decide if they are getting a divorce – they send her to Hart House, meticulously kept and ruled over by her paternal grandparents and host to aunts, uncles, and cousins constantly dropping in. The catch is Finley has never met her dad’s side of the family, from whom he has been estranged since he was young for reasons unknown to Finley. Finley hides a secret of her own; she suffers from some sort of mental illness, most likely anxiety and depression though it is never diagnosed in the course of the book. The only thing that keeps her afloat is a notebook in which she writes lists and stories about the Everwood, an imaginary place that becomes much more real when Finley steps into the woods behind Hart House. She and some of her cousins start to assume roles – queen, knight, squires – from Finley’s stories, but there’s another family in those woods. The Bailey boys become the Harts’ playmates, the pirates to their royalty, but they are soon forbidden by the Hart grandparents from seeing each other due to some mysterious family feud. Finley’s mental condition worsens – the family sends her to a therapist – as she rebels against her grandparents while also growing quite close to them. Secrets continue to swirl around an arson, an illness, a divorce, a midnight party, and it all comes to a head on a rainy night in the woods. Can the Hart family and their reputation survive a summer in the Everwood?

I liked the book and it was particularly remarkable for its treatment of Finley’s mental illness. This isn’t a problem novel. Her mental illness is not the plot. It’s a complication to her relationship with her family and herself. Her depression and anxiety is not cured or even truly managed in the end, but in the final chapter she acknowledges it to her therapist and family, mercifully avoiding preachiness or an overly dramatic or didactic ending.

Claire Legrand wrote one of my favorite children’s horror books, and this was nothing like it, which is great! While I would love for her to recreate the creeps from her first novel, it’s nice to read a favorite author who stretches their talent to a variety of genres.

Family drama read-alikes

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
As Brave As You
 by Jason Reynolds

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Millicent Min, Girl Genius

millicent_min

Millicent Min, Girl Genius
Lisa Yee
Scholastic
October 2003

It’s not easy being a genius, even during summer vacation. Millicent Min, an 12-year-old rising high school senior with no friends (except her grandmother) and few non-academic interests, is taking a “fun” college summer class – poetry – while also reluctantly playing on a club volleyball team and tutoring jock Stanford Wong who is in danger of flunking out of the sixth grade. Millicent befriends her volleyball teammate Emily but doesn’t tell her that she is a certified genius (according to IQ tests and that fact that Millicent was on talk shows as a child) for fear that Emily won’t want to be friends any more. But when a crush between Stanford and Emily leads to Stanford claiming that he is the one tutoring Millicent, she can only hide the truth for so long. Can Emily accept Millicent’s genius? Or is Millicent’s fear of rejection overblown? Lisa Yee creates a funny and charming cast of characters of whom Millicent, at 12 years old, is the most mature, almost to the point of being a parody of a child genius. However, Millicent’s naivety shines through in so many non-intellectual interactions, sometimes hilariously (when she thinks Emily’s mom is going to offer her weed) and sometimes pitifully (in the case of her “friendship” with a college student who is really just using her), reminding the reader of how young she really is and making her relatable for middle grade readers.

Millicent Min, Girl Genius is one of three books in the Millicent Min trilogy. Rather than the sequels being a linear telling within the same world, each book tells the same story from a different point of view. This layering of stories is one of my favorite exercises in children’s literature. I haven’t read the other two books – from Stanford and Emily’s points of view – but I love the idea of presenting to children the same conflicts through others’ eyes. Adults talk a big game about “walking in someone else’s shoes” but children (and let’s be honest, many adults) have a hard time gaining the empathy to actually put it into practice. Books and series that do the leg work of making the other side of the story plain are a great way to practice empathy and consider all the angles before you judge too quickly. I’m planning to read the other two books and will report back!

Read alikes, smart kids

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Winger by Andrew Smith

Read alikes, multiple viewpoints

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass
Wonder by R.J. Palacio

NaNoReadMo: We Were Liars

liars

We Were Liars
E. Lockhart
Delacourte Press
May 2014

Growing up, Cadence Sinclair Easton spent summers on her grandfather’s private island in Cape Cod where each person in the Sinclair family – the grandfather and his three daughters – has his or her own home. Cady roamed the island with her two cousins, Johnny and Mirren, and friends and eventual love interest, Gat – a crew known as “The Liars” – visiting the houses, hanging out at the beach, and watching her mother, aunts, and grandfather get drunk and bicker about money, real estate, inheritance, and broken marriages. For two years following her 15th summer, she has not been allowed to go back and is suffering from debilitating migraines and amnesia. She knows something happened that last summer on the island but the combination of memory loss and painkillers for her migraines leaves her unable to piece together what happened. When she returns to the island to rejoin The Liars, things seem like they might go back to normal, but as Cady starts to remember what happened in that 15th summer, she knows nothing can be the same again. Because of the first-person narration by Cadence, the reader comes to the realization along with her, an ending that will make you question everything you just read and compel you to turn around and reread We Were Liars, looking for hints.

I read this book after being a big fan of E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, but other than being about rich New Englanders (which, as a Bostonian, I feel I can especially appreciate), the books have very little in common. We Were Liars feels so dark right from the beginning, and while you can’t put your finger on it, something always feels a little off. It makes sense since we are getting the story from the point of view of an obviously ill, overprotected, and wholly unreliable narrator. Seriously, Cady might be the most questionable narrator I’ve ever read.

Cady’s family is not the kind of endearingly quirky rich people that Frankie’s family is; the members of the Sinclair family are pretty awful people actually, from the racist grandfather all the way down to the bratty kids so protected by money that they can’t even contemplate the consequences of their actions. They remind me of this quote about the Buchanans in The Great Gatsby – “They were careless people…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they made” (chapter 9 of The Great Gatsby).

We Were Liars has been optioned for a movie. They have only just recently announced who would be adapting the movie script that E. Lockhart wrote based on the book, so there is no telling how long it will take to come to the screen. I can’t wait to see the sets – the island, the houses, the Cape!

Read alikes:

Placebo Junkies by J.C. Carleson
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane