I received this book for free from Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 17th, 2016
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Magical Realism
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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.
Ever since I met Claire Legrand in 2014, I’ve been meaning to read her books. I know, I’ve been terrible about getting around to it, but the premise of Some Kind of Happiness was so unique that I decided I had to take the plunge right away. And I’m glad I did, because this book sure is special.
While Some Kind of Happiness is a middle grade story, its message is so profound that young adults and adults can easily get deeply engrossed in it, because primarily this story focuses on the main character, Finley, and her struggles with anxiety and depression. First off, I want to stress how important this story is. We’re getting to a time now where it’s generally becoming more acceptable to talk about mental health issues – to admit when you struggle with things and have “blue days” as Finley calls them, and where we encourage each other to seek help. Finding yourself in fiction can be a big part on that road to self-discovery, but even if you don’t have any mental health issues, Some Kind of Happiness can give you so much insight into what it feels like to live with one. And since mental health struggles are not limited to adults, I’m so glad this book exists for kids to find as well. It’ll ultimately contribute to a more compassionate society.
Finley has anxiety which sometimes triggers panic attacks and can send her slowly into a spiral of depression. To a certain extent she’s aware of her condition, but in her voice you can still tell that she’s very much a child. She’s confused about why she’s like this. She hates that she can’t just be “normal”. She’s conscious of her blue moods, but as is the case with depression, knowing you’re upset without a reason and wishing it away doesn’t help you at all. I thought her voice and her thought process were amazingly developed. You could tell that Legrand has firsthand knowledge of these conditions and a heaping dose of sensitivity to boot. You can’t help but feel for Finley. I wanted to reach through the pages and give her a hug, basically.
But the story’s not a dark spiral of depression. There’s a subtle magical element that makes this story as enchanting as Narnia. To cope with her anxiety, Finley makes up stories. She invented a world called the Everwood, and when she’s sent to stay with her grandparents while her parents evaluate their marriage, she pictures the woods around the house as the Everwood. Together with her cousins, they play out stories about a lady knight, a champion, two squires, and an orphan girl who cross paths with ghosts, pirates, and trolls. To her cousins, it’s just a lot of fun – but to Finley it means so much more than that. Her stories reflect her mental state, and she needs to keep going with her adventures to effectively “run away” from her condition. There’s such a vivid imagination here – it’s seriously impressive.
Along the way, though Finley is very hard on herself for not being normal and having odd hobbies and not fitting in with her family, her stories about the Everwood make her so charming that people are naturally drawn to her. She usually never shared them with anyone – even her parents didn’t know – but when her cousins start playing out the Everwood with her, they become extremely close friends. They even suddenly prefer to play outdoors than to sit inside with TVs and computers – which makes Finley a welcome addition to the family if you ask her aunts and uncles. There’s such an accepting tone to the story: if you are yourself, and better yet, can admit the things you’re struggling with, you will not be cast out and left alone. You are special, and the people who love you will be there for you. Family is a big part of this story, and in the end there were scenes that were so touching, I had tears in my eyes.
Of course, it’s not all easy going and fun times either. There’s a mystery around an old burnt up house in the woods which no one will talk about. Her father had never taken her to meet this family before, and no one will talk about why. Communication isn’t really this family’s strongest suit, and that did get a little frustrating at times. But that’s a story that needed to be told as well – adding an important theme about responsibility – it just dragged a little bit in some places, I feel. Finley’s voice was so charming that I couldn’t help but carry on. Ultimately, this story touched my heart in all of these little, subtle ways, and it’s not one I’ll soon forget.