Review: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand. August 2012. 9781442442917. Gr. 5-8.

Before I worked here in the Collection Analysis department at Mackin, I worked in an elementary school library.  I loved finding books for students and getting great books into their hands.  I always had to chuckle at some of the (mostly) younger elementary students that thought I had the entire library catalog in my head.  Students would stop me in the hallway and ask, “How much does (insert book title here) cost if I have lost it?” or, “Is (insert book title here) checked in today?”  One of the most common questions asked of me, though, was one I could readily answer: “Do you have any scary books?”

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls certainly fits the bill as a scary story.  In fact, I have read some reviews on it that imply it may be too scary for middle graders.  However, scary means different things to different people.  Some love the thrill of being scared, others avoid frightening things altogether as it may give them nightmares.  I am squarely in the camp of enjoying the “creepy” factor in books, and The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls does not disappoint.

Victoria is a perfectionist.  She takes great pride in her appearance, her manners, and most of all, her grades.  She really only has one friend, Lawrence, and the real reason Victoria has forged a friendship with him is so she can “fix” the mannerisms he has that are out of line with how she thinks a young man should act.  Lawrence is a sloppy, daydreaming boy, and his perpetually untucked shirt and uncombed hair are just a couple of things Victoria seeks to improve.  They have forged a true friendship underneath this odd arrangement, though, which is quickly tested.  Lawrence turns up missing, and Victoria is determined to solve the mystery surrounding his disappearance.

It is soon apparent that things aren’t quite right in Victoria and Lawrence’s town of Belleville.  Aside from children going missing, the adults are acting strangely. Many have a vacant look in their eyes and wide, fake smiles.  Their memory seems impaired, and Victoria understandably feels uneasy.  She finds that the center of the “not quite right” feeling is The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, which is purportedly an orphanage run by fellow perfectionist Mrs. Cavendish.  Victoria soon learns that Cavendish’s good intention to change children’s lives is not what it seems.

Victoria has to unravel the mystery behind the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, save Lawrence and the other children in the house, and find out why the adults in town are acting so weird.  Besides having to match wits with the unsettling Mrs. Cavendish, she has to battle roach-like bugs that seem to do Mrs. Cavendish’s bidding, deal with one-eyed creatures called “gofers”, and overcome the villainous Mr. Alice, Mrs. Cavendish’s right-hand man.

Legrand brilliantly plots this story in such a way that it is delightfully sinister.  She creates characters and elements of the story that are close to normal, or that appear normal, and that is what gives it its unsettling creepiness.  She doesn’t overly rely on monsters or supernaturalism, and that is precisely why it is scary, as sometimes the insinuation of evil is scarier than overt evil!

So, for all of those students you may have that ask you for a “scary story”…keep this one in mind!  There are deeper, underlying messages to explore, such as the importance of individuality, the perils of perfection, and the bond of friendship, but this is a scare-fest in the vein of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, and in my opinion, kids will love it.

Ryan H.

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