The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls
by Claire LeGrand
Are you in the mood to spooked? Here is a delightfully dreadful tale will give you the creepy-crawlies.
12-year-old Victoria’s best friend Lawrence has gone missing. Not only is she confused and lonely after his disappearance, but no one in town seems to remember who he was. Prickly, persnickety Victoria is determined to find out what happened to him, and gradually her questions lead her straight to the tall, gray-brick Home at the end of her street where the bright-eyed Mrs. Cavendish lives.
Written in brisk prose reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls showcases a gratifyingly smart debut by author Claire Legrand. The clever writing assumes that its readers are intelligent thinkers, with vibrant verbs and grim humor marching the story purposefully along with its spirited heroine and her quest.
There is much wickedness afoot in this story, with the dastardly deeds ranging from abusive behavior to murder to…eating things that one really oughtn’t. (Truly, I will never look at butterscotch candy the same way again.) One of the things that makes it especially deliciously creepy is that Victoria partakes in some of these activities without even knowing it, so the gradual realization of what’s really going on in this dark carnival house is a shudder-inducing experience.
I loved the scenes in which Victoria is overcome by nightmarish swarms of insects and when the dark walls move and breathe and when she realizes exactly what the beautiful but ghoulish Mrs. Cavendish has been up to. There were moments in the ending chapters that were absolutely magnificent in their gleeful fiendishness, and they made me do happy creepy dances in my seat. This is a story that may not appeal to those with more delicate sensibilities and probably isn’t suitable for very young children, but Legrand’s deft hand certainly makes it palatable for middle grade readers.
I think some of the scenes would have had more impact if they’d been lengthened, however, as the horror is so brilliant that holding that tension just a bit longer would have allowed us to relish them more. Conversely, the build-up of the mystery also felt a little long for my personal taste. I would also like to have seen some deeper emotion, as the story skims on some sadness and fear, but doesn’t quite leave the sort of lingering feeling that a reader like me yearns for. I still loved reading the story, however, and I’m very much looking forward to the author’s future work.
If you’re in need of handsome presents this holiday season, by the way, this hardcover fits the bill in more ways than one! The book itself is absolutely beautiful, with a textured book jacket, lovely end papers, and wonderful illustrations by Sarah Watts.
As you turn the pages, there are also surprises in the form of smudgy little cockroaches sprinkled here and there throughout the text. *shudder* The design is perfect for this book, and makes it an even more pleasurable reading experience.
The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is an elegant nightmare that will appeal to imaginative children with a sense of humor, and to those of us who have longed for stories that aren’t afraid to scare us–but also puts a reassuring arm around us in the end. The next time you’re in the mood for a shivery read, Cavendish the perfect thing to curl up with on a blustery night.
Rated 4 out of 5 stars.
This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.