Middle Grade Book Review: Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

Middle Grade Book Review: Some Kind of Happiness by Claire LegrandSome Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 17th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Middle Grade
Pages: 374
Goodreads

THINGS FINLEY HART DOESN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT
• Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.)• Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer.• Never having met said grandparents.• Her blue days—when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.)
Finley’s only retreat is the Everwood, a forest kingdom that exists in the pages of her notebook. Until she discovers the endless woods behind her grandparents’ house and realizes the Everwood is real--and holds more mysteries than she'd ever imagined, including a family of pirates that she isn’t allowed to talk to, trees covered in ash, and a strange old wizard living in a house made of bones.
With the help of her cousins, Finley sets out on a mission to save the dying Everwood and uncover its secrets. But as the mysteries pile up and the frightening sadness inside her grows, Finley realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself.
Reality and fantasy collide in this powerful, heartfelt novel about family, depression, and the power of imagination.

Some Kind of Happiness is the story of Finley, she is eleven years old, has a vivid imagination and is dealing with some major things in her life. Anxiety, depression and the ever nearing truth that her parents are getting a divorce. Finley is spending the summer at her grandparents’ home so that her parents can have some time together to figure out how they will move on with their relationship. Finley has never met her dad’s side of the family because something very serious and secret severed their relationship a long time ago. Finley is not happy about being there, she doesn’t want to be among strangers and she is worried that they will discover her own secrets, her “blue days”. Thankfully, to combat her anxiety and to deal with the days when she feels like she is underwater unable to move or breath, Finley has the magical world of The Everwood. The Everwood lives inside the stories in Finley’s notebook, it is a special place she created to help her feel safe, and to express her herself freely. To Finley, The Everwood is only real upon the many pages of her stories, but once she starts to explore the woods behind her grandparents’ home, she realizes that The Everwood is very much real. Along with her cousins, they set off on an adventure that will forge friendships, uncover long-buried family secrets and help Finley face her fears.

I would first like to say that I LOVED Finley. She made my heartache with how broken she is and how unable to handle her feelings of anxiety and depression she is. Claire Legrand did a masterful job in capturing how torturous it can be for anyone to deal with depression and anxiety, especially someone as young as Finley. It is one of the reasons I  applaud this book and feel like everyone should read it no matter their age. These are real issues that are affecting many people, young and old. Books that dealt with these types of mental illness where nowhere when I was growing up, and I wish they had been around. Young readers suffering from similar afflictions as Finley need stories like these to be written. They need to know that they are not alone, they are not being judged and that there are ways to obtain help. I loved that Finley made lists, I love that she loved words. I love that even though Finley was clearly struggling she still had fight in her and was able to create stunning stories. I was glad that Claire Legrand chose to have Finley coop with her afflictions by writing and using her imagination. In many cases of anxiety and depression, those suffering from these ailments don’t often cope in a healthy manner, so I am glad that Claire pushed a creative outlet as a way to help with coping.

One of the things I loved the most about Some Kind of Happiness is how the book is divided into chapters that take place in the whimsical Everwood, and then in Finley’s real world. I think these excerpts from Finley’s notebook about the Everwood are absolutely exquisite (they reminded me of when I was a child and spoke to the trees in my backyard). These passages also were a very clever way to let us know what was going on inside Finley’s mind. Though these passages seem like “make-believe” you come to find out that they are actually how Finley is describing the world around her and how she “sees” things.

I also enjoyed Finley’s family (mainly the cousins), it reminded me of how I grew up surrounded by my grandmother, aunts, and cousins. My family wasn’t as formal as the Harts, or as neat, but I do understand what it’s like to have a strong bond with my cousins growing up. I think it was very important for Finley to connect with her cousins and find acceptance among them. I think their support and love helped her in her journey to understanding herself and her feelings. The Bailey boys/pirates were also characters that I really enjoyed. They were wild and free and reminded me of the neighborhood kids my cousins and I would sometimes be allowed to play with (but that my grandmother never really trusted…just like Finley’s grandmother). The way the Baileys and her cousins willingly went along with Finley’s make-believe world of The Everwood really touched my heart. It’s tough to find friends that will “humor” you in what others might find eccentric and their desire to play along with Finley’s fantasy carved a little place in my heart for all of them.

The plot revolves around Finley and her desire to uncover the truth about why her grandparents and father have an estranged relationship with the help of her cousins and the Bailey boys. In getting closer and closer to the truth, Finley must come to terms with her own secrets and that she will have to face them head on. The writing really is lovely and though melancholy I think the tone is just right. Claire Legrand does an amazing job capturing the voice and thoughts of an eleven-year-old girl, and I love how “reality” and “fantasy” mixed together to create this story. Some Kind of Happiness is a bit sad and I cried at various parts but it is also full of hope and beautifully written. The book is marketed for middle graders but I would highly recommend it to readers of all ages.

Thank you, Simon & Schuster for approving my request to read Some Kind of Happiness in return for an honest review.

You can also read my recap of the middle-grade panel and book signing for Some Kind of Happiness at The Blue Bunny Books and Toy shop  here.

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Claire and I during her signing of Some Kind of Happiness at The Blue Bunny Books and Toys shop.

Event Recap- The Blue Bunny Books Middle Grade Discussion and Book Signing

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This past Saturday (June 4th, 2016) Elizabeth (dearest bookish bestie and blogger of books at BookYAbber) and I headed off to Dedham, MA on a very bright and somewhat warm afternoon to attend a middle-grade book panel/discussion/signing hosted by The Blue Bunny Books & Toys. The authors in attendance included the following talented ladies:

I was super excited to meet Claire Legrand. We had been recently chatting on Twitter (we both have a lot of love for the show The 100). I also recently finished reading the ARC of Some Kind of Happiness and really needed to have a signed finished copy for my ever growing book collection. I was also curious to experience what The Blue Bunny Books & Toys store was like on inside and out. I clearly have a bunny obsession and I have to say that The Blue Bunny Books & Toys did not disappoint. After having a quick lunch Elizabeth and I arrived at The Blue Bunny around 2:45pm. Just outside the store we were greeted with by a very large blue bunny, and of course we needed to get our picture taken with it.

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As we entered the store we were greeted by cheerful employees working the coffee bar right at the front of the store. They make delicious coffees and teas (I tried an ice White Chocolate Coconut coffee late and it was HEAVEN!). There are bookshelves lined up against the walls, and also a few in the middle of the room. Though the store is small, they have a good variety of everything from picture books to YA novels as well as some toys, art prints and stickers (I LOVE stickers). With coffee and tea in hand, we scoped out were the “panel” area was going to be and picked out seats, but just before the event started and the room started filling up we decided to move to the row of chairs behind us (this will be relevant later).

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Photo Credit/Source: Blue Bunny Books & Toys

The panel was scheduled for 3pm, but it seemed like a few people were late, and apparently so were Jen and MarcyKate due to traffic. Once everyone arrived the panel got started and the room really filled up. Each author took a turn speaking about what their new books. Claire shared with us that her book was really personal to her because she deals with depression and anxiety and those are also things her 11yr old main character is struggling with in the book. I think this is such an important topic to be bringing up in middle-grade books because there are lots of kids out there that have no outlet for dealing with and getting help for what they are feeling and going through. Hopefully, books like Claire’s will help to bring the very real afflictions young kids are dealing front and center and show to these young readers that they are not alone and that it is okay to ask for help.

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After each author talked about their books, they also read one page from their book (chosen by the audience) to give us a taste of their stories. This worked out really well because every page chosen was at a great point in the book and didn’t reveal any major spoilers. Once everyone had a chance to read, the discussion turned to writing and how each author writes and plans out their books. MarcyKate likes the freedom of writing chapters out of order. Jen, Claire, and Dana all like to use outlines and really plan out their stories. When questioned about if they prefer a deadline or not, pretty much everyone agreed that a deadline was best but that taking some time away from writing to think things through or to get inspiration was okay. Jen even confessed that sometimes she watches tv in order to relax and get back in the mood for writing (Dana pointed out that Jen had just given every writer in the room the perfect excuse to get away with watching tv).

The authors also spoke about how long the process of getting published can take, and how many times you have to revise, revise, REVISE! They spoke about how what they thought was going to be their “first” book actually didn’t turn out to be “the book”. It’s really funny how that worked out for all of them since they have all written multiple books but only now do all of them have deals in the works to get their original “brain child” published. Another question that was asked was about where they get their ideas/inspirations from. Jen, Dana, and Claire all seem to agree that using Pinterest to create boards for your character’s likes, dislikes, “what would you buy them for Christmas” etc… such a great writing tip. Claire also creates playlists for her books. Jen gets ideas while bathing and uses AquaNotes (a waterproof pad to use in the shower or while taking a bath). Claire and Dana also suggested using Beat Sheets to keep things going in a flow and chronological. MarcyKate said that sometimes she gets ideas while riding the T (our train system here in Massachusetts). They also enjoy using come kind of online writing space like WattPad, Scrivner, and Save The Cat-Beat Sheets.

I asked a question myself, about if they all wrote stories as children, or what other types of creative outlets did they participate in. Claire said that besides writing, she also played the trumpet and piano. She mentioned that during her teen years she kept a black velvet notebook with roses on it filled with gothy/emo poetry (as did I…lol). MarcyKate also is musically inclined and loves to sing, but has horrible stage fright. She was a strange child (my kind of kid) and wrote a story called “My Last Will and Testament” and another about story about a seal that gets skewered by a narwhal (but it’s more complex than that)…both which sound AWESOME. She mentioned that if a kid wrote something like that these days they might be sent to see the school shrink (I think these should totally be book-shaped stories MarcyKate!). Jen said she wrote for a little bit, but didn’t really pick it up again until an adult (if you don’t count the angsty teen poetry).

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Before the discussion came to an end, Claire did a giveaway an ARC copy of her gorgeous novel FOXHEART being released October 4th, 2016. She told everyone to look under their chairs (she placed a post-it under the lucky winner’s chair and it so happened that it was under Elizabeth’s seat (hence why I mentioned we changed out seats, because if we had not…Elizabeth would not have won the ARC…we had been talking about how it was our mission to win it, somehow, some way). YAY! I know Elizabeth is stoked to read it, and hopefully she will lend it to me once she is done. 🙂

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Once the discussion ended, we both purchased Some Kind of Happiness. I also purchased Ravenous by MarcyKate, which Elizabeth already owned. We got in line to get our lovelies signed and to officially meet Claire in person. It was so very nice to meet her, she is just the sweetest person…(must be that Texas charm of hers). Of course, we gushed about our love for The 100, how we can’t wait for it to return and how the return date feels like it’s so far away. We talked about the beautiful artwork in FOXHEART and about my love of foxes (and bunnies). I told her how much I enjoyed reading Some Kind of Happiness and even managed to squeeze in a little bit of Neil Gaiman into the conversation. (I so hope Claire gets to meet him one day…I think they would get along ). I hope that Claire comes back to Boston for her FOXHEART tour because I would love to see her again.

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It seems like every time we go to an event, Elizabeth and I seem to find cake. Cake magically appears and like moths to the flame…we must get our sweet treats. This time, we found little cupcakes with little flags (with all the different books featured on them). Elizabeth got a cupcake with Ravenous on it, and I got one with Some Kind of Happiness. They were delicious and the perfect way to end our bookish outing. Before heading out, I was able to speak a little with Margie (I believe she is the store manager) and she was kind enough to take a lovely picture of Elizabeth and I with our Some Kind of Happiness books in hand (is that a “Bunny pattern” on my shirt-dress you ask? Why yes it is. I wore it, especially for this trip. I thought it was quite appropriate). Elizabeth and I once again also managed to coordinate our attired without trying…it just happens…like MAGIC. 🙂

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Thank you Margie for taking this picture of us!

A big “Thank You” to Blue Bunny Books & Toys for hosting this wonderful event, and for the cupcakes…(I can’t wait to come back for another visit).

Thank you to all the authors for attending, for sharing all your wonderful stories and writing tips with us, it was truly inspiring and made me want to run home and start writing. A special thank you to Elizabeth for going with me and sharing yet another bookish adventure together. I can’t wait until our next one.

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