Author: Claire Legrand
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Summary from 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.
So much depth, contained in the pages of this novel. I was captivated from page one, and soaked in every word. I loved the themes, loved the message, loved the characters, loved the plot. It was confusing and a little hard to understand at turns, but was a satisfying read, full of depth and meaning.
This book tackles a difficult subject, especially considering the target audience is middle grade—depression, anxiety, sadness—but I think the author pulled it off with flying colors. I don’t struggle with these things myself, but the way it was described in Finley’s mind pulled me in to a point where I now feel that I understand what it feels like.
Finley is such a perfect main character for this novel. She’s a kid, but she’s mature—but she’s still a kid. Her depression and anxiety is described well, as I’ve said, and she expresses and struggles with it just as you’d expect any eleven-year-old to—with confusion and uncertainty. She’s mature beyond her years, but is still a kid, and for that I absolutely loved her. I totally related to her writerly side—aka, writing scenes in her mind while walking through the forest—and I was hooked by her story of Everwood just as much as I was hooked by the “real life” story. Not to mention it came together perfectly.
This book tackles the issues I’ve mentioned before with skill and maturity, and for this reason I do think the book would better be appreciated for an older audience. Younger kids will read this just fine, but they just might not get it. There are some seriously deep things addressed, things that will fly over kids’ heads but as a teenager I understand.
There were also some darker elements of this book that I’d say the same about—they’ll completely fly over kid’s heads, but older readers will understand, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.
Depression is represented as “Dark Ones” holding onto Finley, and she has to learn to cast them off in order to get rid of her depression and anxiety. At the beginning she holds onto the Dark Ones, too, because she’s scared to let go, but as she grows, she discovers she has to cast them off. This got very dark/deep in there for a while, and though it ended well, I don’t think it was fitting for the designated audience.
Another example is in the beginning while exploring, the kids find an old house, burned down, and three graves by it—the people who used to live there. One of the main plots is trying to figure out what happened. Eventually it’s revealed that Finley’s aunts were having a hard time, went out partying in the woods, got all drunk and accidentally set the house on fire, accidentally killing all three people inside. While this kind of thing I’d say is undoubtedly too dark for the middle grade audience, it was written in a way that will fly over their heads and they really won’t understand it completely—you learn through Finley’s personal perception of it through an Everwood tale, so only more mature and older teens will understand what happened.
However, though, these dark themes are defeated in the end, shoved away and pushed down, overcome by positive themes and ideas of love, forgiveness. One of the most powerful ideas I saw in this book was the idea of loving no matter what. Finley meets a new friend, Jack, who tells her he loves his father, even though his father is a drunkard and mean to him. Finley doesn’t understand how he could love someone who did something so bad. Later, when she suspects her aunt’s secret, she thinks she could never love them if they did it. However, when she does find out, she has a revelation moment when she realizes she does still love them, and that they’re family and that no matter what they do, she’ll always still love them. I LOVED (no pun intended) this scene and concept so much and thought it was such a positive and brilliant message to send, fitting in well with the plot nonetheless. This came in in other ways, too, such as the plotline with Finley’s grandparents disowning her father and her parents’ divorce (which I didn’t get, because it seemed like they were doing fine). It was such powerful themes about family and love and forgiveness.
It seriously was such an unique and creative plotline, full of originality and spark. I do think now, though, that this definitely should be marketed towards an older audience; I would not have understood this book had I read it at the designated audience—it’s just too much and will completely go over their heads. This is a beautiful and brilliant book, however, so I do believe it is important, I just don’t think it’s really fitting for the audience it’s designed for. My main setback was it just had a bit too much darkness/creepiness for my taste…it was eerily realistic, and even though it was defeated and I get why it’s there, to represent the dark things Finley struggles with, I just personally don’t like reading about too much darkness. I did really appreciate the ending and defeat, however. 4.0 stars.