The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls delivers so much more.
The narrative starts out focused on Victoria, a girl with a perfect life: perfect clothes, perfect school, perfect looks, perfect parents, perfect home, perfect everything. In an act of kindness, she has made a project of Lawrence, one of the least-perfect boys in her school. Victoria plans to force him to give up his slovenly, childish imperfect ways and become a natural part of her perfect life.
Early on the narrative hints that Lawrence is going to go missing. This foreshadowing also hints at some of the other strange problems that are happening around town. At first, Victoria isn't even aware of the oddities or if she is, she thinks nothing of them. She's too busy worrying about how she can repair the smudge on her Academic Report from the B she received in Music.
Once Lawrence vanishes though, Victoria searches for answers. At first, she doesn't feel particularly attached to imperfect Lawrence but his absence is a blemish on her otherwise perfectly normal life. Looking for answers she only finds more questions and more strangeness. Eventually she is led to the Cavendish Home, a large orphanage set at the end of the street. She meets the proprietress Mrs. Cavendish and the gardener/caretaker Mr. Alice. Both are pleasant enough but neither sets her questions at ease.
By this time, the story has layered on plenty of weird elements to let you know that this isn't your normal mystery story. As Victoria gets deeper and deeper into the mystery, the aspects become more and more strange. I found myself comparing this story in many ways to Neil Gaiman's Coraline. Like Coraline, this book is full of absolutely bizarre twists and turns and a heavy mix of magic, supernatural and just plain weird. And just to clarify, I found the comparison to Gaiman to be a high compliment rather than suggesting that this book is simply a rehash of elements and themes used elsewhere.
I felt like the author did a great job of taking a semi-normal missing-persons mystery and layering it with layer upon layer of the creepy and scary while still maintaining a manageable story that's believable and approachable by younger readers. I definitely wouldn't recommend reading it to a Kindergartener, but late grade school or middle graders will eat this story up and beg for more.
I loved the multi-faceted way the mystery was presented. Everything came along in quick but subtle bursts of events or information. Finally, our heroine seems to be flying along out of control headed for certain disaster. The resolution and eventual outcome are satisfying although the twist in the final couple of pages left me curious about the rules of the world as a whole.
To those who enjoy Neil Gaiman's youth fiction or had fun with R.L. Stein or other similar kids horror authors, this book will immediately appeal. To those looking for something lighthearted and fun, I can say that the writing is clever and there are some genuine heartfelt relationships and laughable humor, but it's definitely a darker story, so you should be warned.
Overall it's quite fun and I really liked the character and story development. This is only her debut novel, but I look forward to seeing more from Claire Legrand.
4 out of 5 stars
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