Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book review: "The Grimm Legacy" by Polly Shulman

Title: The Grimm Legacy
Author: Polly Shulman
Publisher: Puffin Books, 2010

Elizabeth's new job is one she never thought she'd have. She works at the New York Circulating Material Repository, a lending library of sorts that loans out objects instead of books. She's delighted with her new position as page, one she got on the recommendation of her social studies teacher after she writes a research paper on the Brothers Grimm. And being the new girl at school coupled with a new stepfamily who treats her as a lesser, she is happy to have a place to spend her time. Soon she is let in on the secret, special collections that are kept in the basement, objects that come straight from the land of what she once thought was fiction. But all is not well in the magical world, and Elizabeth, along with her fellow pages, set off on a dangerous quest to stop the evil from destroying the Repository.

This book was recommended to me as a read-alike for A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, but now that I've read it I'm not sure why. The only similarities are the fantasy elements and the quest story, in addition to the main character's self disgust of her looks. However, I did really like the premise, and it's a great one: the Grimm fairy tales (along with other myths and folklore) actually did happen, and the Repository has some of the objects in its special collection, the Grimm Collection. Unfortunately, the execution left much to be desired for me.

I found the writing style overly simplistic, with a lot of explanation of the magical world, and the job of page itself, told through dialogue in the form of Elizabeth asking somewhat ridiculous questions and giving us the benefit of the answer. For example, when explaining the job of page, Elizabeth asks her coworker Marc something along the lines of, so am I a dishwasher or something? Marc rightly looks at her likes she's crazy, and she goes on to say it's because she was asked if she washed dishes at home in her job interview. Other things like this happen throughout the book, and it just made me crazy, especially at the beginning.

The exposition really bugged me too, which went mostly as I mentioned above. We learn that Elizabeth's mother passed away and her father, who remarried, is using all his money to put her stepsisters through college without leaving much for Elizabeth. I hated the way her stepfamily is the stereotypical fairy tale stock characters, pretty much straight out of Cinderella. This was most likely done on purpose, but I found it mostly unneccesary unless you count needing a reason for Elizabeth to not have her parents present at all in the story.

I also didn't really understand why Elizabeth disliked herself so much. She had no friends at all, as her best friend had conveniently moved to California, and she was often getting down on herself. This coupled with her irritating propensity to misunderstand pretty much everything (EVERYTHING) made me want to stop reading early on.

However, I kept at it, and it did eventually turn around a bit. The best part is by far the Grimm references and all of the objects from the tales, and the adventure portion is pretty good too. Elizabeth dials back the annoying-ness, and the ending doesn't have all the loose ends tied up quite yet (though most of them are). Once I got about halfway through the book it was pretty easy to finish, and I'm glad I did get all the way through.

This was a fun story with a great premise, just a bit of a lackluster execution. I'd say this is a good book for middle schoolers looking to read about teens and magic. It's all very tame, both in romance and violence, with enough to interest and engage.

Disclosure: I got this book from my local library.

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