Claire Legrand’s The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls begins in rather an intriguing way: ‘When Victoria Wright was twelve years old, she had precisely one friend’. I liked our young protagonist from the start, mainly for her staunch determination in ensnaring her ‘one friend’: ‘Over the years, Victoria pushed herself into Lawrence’s life, and was pushed out of it when he decided that enough was enough, and then pushed herself back in, and finally they were really, truly friends, in an odd sort of way’.
Victoria is a privileged child, with a spotless bedroom and a schedule of activities hanging above her desk. Her goal in life is to stay at the very top of her class, and to get the best grades which she can.
The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, an orphanage owned by the enigmatic Miss Cavendish, looms at the end of Victoria’s street. As soon as it is introduced, Legrand builds the atmosphere marvellously. Wonderful Gothic elements creep in – odd goings on which cannot really be explained, the Cavendish Home exuding rather a creepy air, Victoria’s friend Lawrence’s mysterious disappearance, and the strange behaviour of his parents, and then her own. As soon as Victoria notices that more children around her have begun to slip away without a trace, she starts to investigate. In her quest to find out what is wrong with the oddly behaving adults around her, Victoria enters The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. Here the stories converge.
The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls gave me quite the same feeling as Coraline did in its unsettling plot. As with Coraline, the story is gripping and difficult to put down. Legrand’s writing is marvellous, and in the way she crafts her plot and sentences, she allows the book to be just as well suited to a teenager as to an adult. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is deliciously, perfectly creepy, and comes highly recommended.