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  • Writer's pictureAmelia Hooke

Review of 'The Year of Shadows'

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

The Year of Shadows

Ghost story, Gothic, Contemporary, Middle grade

Rating: 👻👻👻👻 (4 out of 4 boos)

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 his 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.”

What’s the main character like?

Does anybody else remember Lydia in the cartoon version of Beetlejuice? That’s who Olivia Stellatella reminds me of. She’s sort of who I wished I was in my middle-school days—edgy, outspoken, artsy. But going hand in hand with those qualities are her suffering and loneliness. Overall, she feels very real, and in spite of being just as ornery as her cat Igor, she’s a joy to read about.

How scary is it?

The book is pretty spooky for middle grade! There’s another force in the concert hall aside from the ghosts Olivia seeks to help, and they make for some nightmarish scenes.

Who might like this book?

Labeled as “gently gothic,” The Year of Shadows has appeal beyond just middle-grade horror and ghost story lovers. I was reminded in particular of two non-horror middle grade books, The Thing About Jellyfish and Things You Can’t Say, both poignant and focused on friendship. And there’s also a Casper vibe.

What did I like best?

There were tons of classical music references. I’m not a musician or a classical music expert, but I listen to it daily and love live classical concerts. I was thrilled at the end of the book to see that the author provided a list of the songs referenced in the book. They were listed essentially in a program format, as they would have been played throughout a concert hall’s many seasons.

What wasn’t my favorite?

I prefer dogs over cats, mostly because of allergy reasons. Maybe it would have been cool if Igor was a dog...but then again, a cat fits this “gently gothic” story much better.

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