Thursday, March 09, 2023

A Green Velvet Secret

Grant, Vicki. A Green Velvet Secret
March 7, 2023 by Tundra Books (NY)
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Yardley doesn't have a lot of friends at school, but she doesn't need them. She has her grandmother, Gidge. The two hang out together, enjoy dressing in outrageous fashions, and form a united front against Yardley's parents, who are actors who run a local theater that puts on unusual productions. When Gidge is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she approaches it as her "next adventure". She writes a lot of apology letters to send off, as well as letters to mail after her death. She cleans out her closet (she as a costume design teacher at the local arts high school for years) and takes garments to the Over Easy Vintage Emporium to sell. The shop is run by a former student, Con, who is taking care of his nephew, Harris, who is Yardley's age. Harris doesn't really want to talk to her, since he is dealing with his own problems, and Yardley isn't interested in befriending him, either. Gidge has some chemotherapy, but it isn't successful, and when her condition worsens, she contacts a doctor who can help her under Canada's medical assistance in dying law. There is a small party with Gidge's favorite things, and then she is gone. Yardley takes this badly, but does continue to help out at the Emporium. When Mrs. Johnson comes in saying that she won a prize, Con gives her a box that contained one of Gidge's dresses, a green velvet number that seemed to make Gidge sad. Yardley gets it into her head that Mrs. Johnson is Gidge reincarnated, and ropes Harris into helping her find the woman. Yardley sees coincidences everywhere, and she also gets letters mentioning her current activities that she thinks Gidge is sending from the beyond. Of course, none of this is true, and family secrets eventually unfold. Will the green velvet dress be the key to helping Yardley make peace with her grandmother's passing?
Strengths: I'm a huge fan of vintage clothing, so reading about all of Gidge's and Yardley's flamboyant fashion was such fun! This was also a very matter-of-fact look at the death that was treated positively and wasn't overblown. A lot of grandparents pass away when their grandchildren are tweens; this is far more likely to happen than the death of a parent, and while there are a lot of details about how Gidge chooses to go, it's not maudlin or soppy. Yardley struggles, but does make progress in dealing with her grief. Seeing a strong intergenerational relationship, like the one in Respicio's Any Day With You, is something I would like to see more of in middle grade literature. Supporting characters like the parents, Con, and Harris are interesting as well. The family secret offers a bit of healing potential. 
Weaknesses: Would middle school students really think that a grandparent was reincarnated? Usually by 6th grade my students have moved past magical thinking like this, although many elementary students certainly would believe it. 
What I really think: Like Urban's Maybe There and Maybe Not , this was an interesting look at grief, family secrets, and how to move forward after the death of a loved one. I wish that Yardley hadn't been quite as quirky (there's something to be said for flying under the radar in middle school), but this was a positive and amusing way to deal with a difficulty subject. 

Interestingly enough, on this day in 1973, my paternal grandfather, Walter Stanford Yingling, passed away from lung cancer. I was eight. Can't tell you the dates that my other grandparents passed, but I remember my father waking me up and telling me that I wasn't going to school because we had to travel from Maryland back to Ohio for his funeral. There were white carnations that had been set in blue dye in one of the floral arrangements, and my father's cousin Betty was very kind to me. I remember little else. 

Fifty years ago. And my father is not here to tell me how much longer he lived than his parents!

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