Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS by Claire LeGrand

Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster—lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does too.)

But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out…different. Or they don’t come out at all.

If anyone can sort this out, it’s Victoria—even if it means getting a little messy.
Why did it take me so long to read this book? Whyyyyyyyyyy?!

I knew I would like it. Other bloggers have raved over it, including the alarmingly adorably persistent Elena of Novel Sounds. I trust Elena. And I knew the book was icky and scary in a way not normally seen in MG books. I like icky and scary, for the most part. And I've talked to the author on multiple occasions through Twitter, so I knew for a fact that I liked her. The only thing I can think of is that I knew Cavendish was MG, so I, as a busy YA blogger, let it slide to the back of the shelf.

I am a stupid, stupid blogger.

Cavendish is the type of book I would have loved as a youngster. Or perhaps not. I was a wuss of a kid. I do think I would have liked Victoria. Victoria is fascinating in that she is what some readers might call an Unlikeable Female. Gasp! A little girl who isn't sugar and spice and everything nice? Horrific!

Actually, Victoria is all that sugar and spice and whatnot, but on overload. She is The Perfect Child. She knows it, and she makes sure everyone else knows it, too. Victoria, you see, is a stickler for rules. Everything must be just so. She wakes at the same time every morning. She follows her perfect routine. Her room is spotless with nary a knick-knack in sight. She is at the top of her class and has been ever since kindergarten. I'm sure had she gone to preschool, she would have been top there, too, if one can be top at things like finger-painting and nap-taking.


Of course, Victoria isn't content to merely be the best. She is determined to make everyone else better as well, which is where some people will consider her to be unlikeable. She has only one friend, skunk-haired Lawrence, and he did not begin as a friend but merely as a project. His hair is strange, his shirt goes untucked, he hums too much, and he is obsessed with his piano, which everyone considers a frivolous and worthless pursuit. Victoria decides to change him, going so far as to critique how he blows out his candles at his birthday party. And yet, somehow, the two children become friends.

While Victoria's feelings toward Lawrence are murky in the beginning, I knew how I felt toward the boy immediately. I adored him. Quiet, a bit absent-minded, and patient with a side of wry sarcasm, Lawrence can handle "Vicky" in a way no one else can. Despite her nagging and outsized superiority complex, he genuinely seems to appreciate her friendship.
"[S]ometimes, the counselors or professors or Mom and Dad say, 'Don't you care that you don't have many friends?' And I say, 'Not really. Because I have Vicky.'"
I know they're both only twelve, but


I'd like to say that, given their relationship, Vicky is the very first to notice when Lawrence disappears, that she immediately springs into action to rescue her one and only friend. But she doesn't. She's too busy stressing over her B is music class, the one horrifying blemish on her otherwise perfect record.

Oh, she notices that Lawrence is gone, but his parents say he has gone to visit a grandmother. And she notices that adults like Lawrence's parents and the professors at school have taken to smiling a strange, wolfish sort of smile that sends chills down her back. And she notices that odd, stinging, roach-like bugs with ten legs have started popping up around town. But Victoria does not do nonsense. She does not participate in flights of fancy.


It's not until all of these oddities begin to pile atop the other, not until Victoria notices that other children are missing and that she has begun to forget them, begun to forget Lawrence, and not until she starts to pay attention to the orphanage at the end of the row that is run by the sinisterly delightful Mrs. Cavendish that Victoria decides to act. And when Victoria decides to act, Heaven help anyone who stands in her way.

As she tells another character, others may have tried before, but they weren't at the top of their class, now were they?

Let me just say that you all may think you can handle this book. You can't. Because what you think you can handle is some MG romp that frightens with shadow puppets and bowls of cold spaghetti for guts. You think that you'll have a safe scare like a child in a haunted house, and that when it's all over, you'll sit back and laugh, because there was never any real danger at all.

That is not what this book is. This book is dark and frightening and twisted and seriously freaky. It's as though Ms. LeGrand found a magical key that lets her into the nightmares that haunt every child. Nightmares populated with birds with human teeth, shifting corridors, floors that turn into an army of cockroaches, and parents who abandon you in the dark no matter how much you cry and scream.

Cavendish also takes a very interesting look at the importance of rules and How Things Should Be. Children's books can be a very preachy lot -  do this, don't do that, and morals out the wazoo. Moral instruction isn't a bad thing. How else can children learn the difference between right and wrong? But Cavendish examines what might happen if rules, the keeping of rules, and the protection of How Things Should Be go too far. It's not wrong for a child to want to be tidy or to achieve straight A's or even try to help her friend be less scattered. But when being the best takes priority, when the desire for everything to be fixed and perfect no matter what the cost becomes a person's or even a town's driving goal... Well, that's when the monsters come slinking out from the dark corners, dressed in their Sunday best, blue eyes twinkling merrily and hair perfectly coiffured.

That's Mrs. Cavendish's job. To fix. To perfect. And Mrs. Cavendish is nothing short of perfect in her chosen profession.

The entire story was delightfully frightful, and I enjoyed every moment. Ms. LeGrand has the admirable bravery not to pull her punches. I love reading a book that gives no assurances that everything will turn out alright. Everything might not turn out alright. In fact, not everything does. Unlike some books, there is no magic reset button, no easy fix or magic phrase to make the past rewind and fix itself.

So if you're feeling brave enough and don't mind being forever robbed of your love of butterscotch candies, hurry to your closest library, bookstore, or online retailer and pick up The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. But do be careful. You never know who - or what - may be watching.

Favorite (Non-Spoilery) Quote:
Crier. To scream.

Je crie. I scream. Tue cries. You scream.

Il crie.

He screams.

Silence. Silence. That was the same.
Points Added For: Lawrence and Vicky's friendship, being far creepier than I anticipated

Points Subtracted For: Nothing

Good For Fans Of: The Secret series by Pseudonymous Bosch (but darker), Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by John Scieszka.

Notes For Parents: Clearly, this book is not for the overly sensitive. There are very scary moments, but there is no language, sex, or other impropriety. There is, however, violence.

Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide