The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
My age recommendation: upper middle grade through young adult.
Novel’s strongest point: Whimsical and amusing premise, use of the author’s real-life background as a librarian in an inventive way that makes it come alive.
A bit about the book…
Elizabeth Rew knows what it’s like to have some serious bumps in life, and then have a magical encounter. New school, new stepmother, and a best friend moves away all at the same time! She finds herself friendless until Mr. Mauskopf, her social studies teacher, recommends her for a position at unique library. The New York Circulating Material Repository specializes in important historical objects rather than books.
She becomes a page (a gofer that runs errands and shelves objects) at the repository and she quickly makes friends with fellow-pages Anjali and Marc, a classmate and star basketball player from her own school. Marc is one of those guys that all the girls, including Elizabeth herself, have a crush on. There is also Aaron, another page who is cranky most of the time.
Like most libraries, the repository has special collections. Elizabeth slowly understands that the Grimm Collection is filled with magical items from the Brothers Grimm tales. Before long, Elizabeth learns she is being entrusted with access to this enticing section. But some pieces of what she’s learning just don’t add up. A former page disappeared. A number of the magical items seem to have been replaced with ordinary items. The pages look to each other as suspects. Even with some bickering, they find they must band together to understand the disappearances, and save the collection, and themselves.
My thoughts, but beware… some spoilers here…
What a wonderful concept Polly Shulman, a real-life librarian, had in creating the special library for famous objects. Young readers get to fly in enchanted boots, talk to Snow White’s magic mirror, walk within Tiffany’s stained-glass windows, sit in charmed chairs, and take a flight on a magic carpet. So many other elegant, subtle mentions from the many stories make their way into the adventurous plot when things go missing from the library and some of the pages that work there disappear. Even the keys to open doors are so imaginative here.
The pace and evil challenges Elizabeth and her new friends must face together are perfect for the older middle grade through teen reader. There is a tiny bit of romance and kissing among the characters, who are seventeen years old, but it’s fitting with the story and not the centerpiece of it all. I felt excited for Elizabeth to have this opportunity after hard circumstances in her life. But you do spend many hours, like the pages that work there, in dark hallways. I loved it when the story revved up in the third quarter with other locations and more intricate, incredible plot twists.
This book is about intrigue about important objects, along with a well-paced plot for adventures surrounding them. It isn’t about deep exploration of the characters or their backstory, nor the Grimm brothers themselves (but other books have done this already). It’s a fun, whimsical, creative adventure with a very fresh approach to fantasy and great for today’s older tween, into teenage years.
The resilience factor:
I am always drawn to inventive stories with great plots, but the ones I remember the most use these tools to teach their characters something lasting. I love that Elizabeth’s strengths with uncovering a mystery and perseverance are highlighted as the plot advances. I also like that her solution to the difficult home life isn’t something unhealthy but a great adventure in which she discovers strength she never knew she had. As a real-life survivor, I’m looking for stories that intrigue my children and yet have a nugget of something they’ll hold onto for a long time. This book delivers in spades, and I’m excited to finish the series this year too!