A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Vocabulary words are introduced and defined using crossword puzzle definitions, since Finley likes crosswords. Information about how to use the library to do research on local history. Modeling of journal keeping and story writing.
Family love is important, even when it's flawed. It's emotionally healthy to talk about family secrets. Even when kids and families are labeled "bad," they may turn into good and trusted friends. Divorce is difficult for kids, but there are ways to get through it.
Positive Role Models
Finley is an active female protagonist. She leads her cousins on adventures exploring the woods and the mysteries held there and carefully confronts adults about family secrets. She keeps a journal and writes imaginative fantasy stories. Though she suffers anxiety and depression and is worried about her parents' impending divorce, she talks openly about those issues in her first-person narration. Initially intimidated by her cousins and aunts, she's open to their friendship and love. She isn't afraid of the neighbor boys and skillfully befriends them, winning them over.
Violence & Scariness
A house burned in the past, and the family of three that lived there perished in the fire and is buried on the property. The boys across the river steal something from Finley and her cousins but are soon won over as friends.
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Legrand deftly sidesteps troublesome language mostly by alluding to it but not saying it. One cousin "growls an extremely forbidden word under her breath." A boy "makes a gesture that would no doubt make my issue with the dinner forks seem like nothing to Grandma." In a heightened moment of anger, Grandpa says "hell" once. One cousin taunts another one by calling her "a butt," as in, "Don't be a butt … Kennedy's a butt."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Claire Legrand's Some Kind of Happiness shines a light on a family with secrets. When 11-year-old Finley Hart gets shipped off to her grandparents so her parents can address their broken marriage, she wonders why she's never met them before and why her father is estranged. This contemporary family story mirrors elements in a fantasy tale Finley is writing, snippets of which are woven into the text. Though all is carefully written to be appropriate for middle grade, the book deals squarely with divorce, depression, and anxiety. There are disturbing secrets from the past involving a fire and deaths, though Legrand doesn't dwell on the details. And because there's mention of how traits are passed down in a family -- the Harts say "it's in the blood" -- there might be some sensitivity or questions from kids who are adopted.
Is It Any Good?
In this absorbing story that spans a summer, a young girl exposes long-festering family secrets as she and her cousins dig into local mysteries while also acting out a fantasy story she's written. Finley's a likable narrator who suffers anxiety attacks but manages to be adventurous and open. When she first arrives at her grandparents' house, her family intimidates her. Why do they all seem so perfect? But when she and her cousins explore the forbidden woods that abut the property and come upon a burned-out house, Finley begins to suspect that her family isn't so perfect after all, adding mystery and suspense to the well-drawn family story.
The fantasy story that Finley's writing is woven into the novel in just the right measure. Fin and her cousins are a fun bunch. Neighbor boys whom they're forbidden to play with also turn out to be nice kids with a bit harder row to hoe and provide a sweet hint of youthful romance. There's old-fashioned appeal in the kids roaming free and exploring the outdoors, and while Finley's conflict with her brittle grandma may seem too easily resolved, the story's exceedingly satisfying and well told.
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