Author: Claire Legrand
Twelve-year-old Victoria Wright believes in perfection. Being top of her class isn’t just an achievement, it’s her right. Her best friend Lawrence Prewitt is nothing like her. Easily distracted by his piano and unable to remember to tuck in his shirt, Lawrence would be a lost cause without her. Then one day without warning Lawrence disappears. Victoria is baffled, especially when the people of Belleville don’t seem as concerned by his disappearance as she is. When Victoria’s investigation leads her to the mysterious Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, she’ll discover just what goes on behind its closed doors and that being perfect comes at a price.
“The air thrilled between night and day, between bad things and good things. Victoria hated that feeling, and any between feelings, for that matter. Things should be one or the other, not somewhere in the middle, and lately, everything was very in the middle.”
Claire Legrand’s The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is full of mystery and fright. Told from the view point of the ambitious Victoria, Legrand’s book is a lesson in individuality, that being different is more valuable than being perfect. Belleville is a pristine town, where following the rules is imperative, and anyone who deviates from the norm is labeled strange. But Victoria discovers stranger things still when she begins to notices several children missing and something off about the perfect smiles of the adults around her. Victoria receives several perplexing warnings to be careful, but instead of being the perfect example of good behavior, something she’s extremely good at, Victoria is determined to find her friend even if it means breaking the rules.
Victoria is at first awe-struck by Mrs. Cavendish, who runs the Home for Boys and Girls. She is lovely, kind, and for some reason thoughts get a little fuzzy in Victoria’s head when she’s around her. Mrs. Cavendish is also a perfectionist and though it terrifies Victoria to think so, for there is something evil hiding behind that pretty smile, she is a lot like her. One thing I missed from this book was the presence of adults, aside from the villains. Victoria’s parents have little to do than to present perfect personas that convince me they are the reason for Victoria’s unrealistic expectations of herself and others. And when the mystery of the missing children is finally resolved, little seems to have changed for the adults in the story.
I also couldn’t quite grasp why Lawrence’s musical gift would be looked down upon, but perhaps this is my own biases speaking. I would have liked the book to have set up his and Victoria’s friendship more before his disappearance. We are told that part of Victoria’s disapproval of Lawrence lies not only in her desire for everyone to care about school and rules like she does, but also because she is a little jealous. I would have liked to have seen this rather than being told. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is a fun quick read that has a lot of elements similar to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, but lacked enough distinction to really pull me in entirely.