I've been a fan of Legrand since I read THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS, a highly underrated gothic horror novel for middle graders. So I wasn't surprised to hear that SKAH was winning admiration for its writing. However, I admit I found it hard to motivate myself to pick up another realistic fiction read about heavy family issues. I'm glad I did.
Legrand's writing, as always, is exceptional, beautifully composed yet still capturing natural patterns of dialogue and an authentically child-like internal voice. While the themes are dark - family fissures, tragic secrets, mental illness, divorce - Legrand nicely balances the hopeful with the heavy. It's wonderful to see Finley developing close relationships with her extended family, and each of the child characters is a joy to read. The adult characters are fairly well fleshed-out as well, while maintaining a child's understanding of the adult world. The three aunts are the exception - it's difficult to keep the straight, but that seems to be part of the point. The integration of Finley's stories about Everwood provides an alternate, more poetic perspective on her struggles, and Legrand does a nice job of never letting those pieces get in the way. They remain short and succinct, adding depth without slowing down the narrative. In the end, there's an awful lot of drama. Still, young readers will enjoy the action and suspense, and the resolution feels realistic, letting many of the loose ends remain unresolved. A sensitive exploration of mental illness perfectly tuned to adolescent readers trying to bridge the gap between childhood and whatever comes next.