The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shullman

What I mean is, all the terrible things that happen in fairy tales seem real. Or not real, but genuine. Life is unfair, and the bad guys keep winning and good people die. But I like how that’s not always the end of it…Evil is real, but so is good. They always say fairy tales are simplistic, black and white, but I don’t think so. I think they’re complicated. That’s what I love about them.

Elizabeth is at a new school where she is finding it hard to make friends after standing up for a girl who was getting bullied by other students.  She is generally lonely even at home because her father has remarried and she has a stepmother and stepsisters she doesn’t much like.  So when one day her History teacher offers her a job at the New York Circulating Material Repository, a library that loans objects of historical value, she jumps at the chance to earn a little money and possibly make some friends outside of school.

At first the job is a bit strange, albeit interesting, and then Elizabeth is given a special key to The Grimm Collection. The Grimm Collection  holds magical objects from the Brothers’ fairy tales such as the  seven-league boots, a mermaid’s comb, the sinister mirror from “Snow White” and the 12 dancing princesses’ shoes.  Elizabeth is startled but delighted to learn that magic is real and that the Grimm fairy tales were true.  As suddenly as she is introduced into the world of magic, she is also thrown into a world of intrigue. The Grimm objects are being stolen and she, with the help of her fellow pages at the Repository, must find out who is stealing them and why.

This story was a very enjoyable young adult fantasy. The characters are humorous and thankfully, very human. They make mistakes, distrust each other, get confused, embarrassed, overjoyed and generally act like normal teenagers without too many exaggerations or over blown character traits.  Some of the characters, such as the Librarians at the Repository, are more magical than the young people who drive the plot and they add a lot of fun and mystery to the story with their own odd personalities. There is a bit of a love story (or two) thrown into the plot (after all, it is about teenagers) but it doesn’t take over the story or swamp the plot in angst.  Its just an added bonus for those that enjoy a few awkward moments and romantic revelations.

It is a well written book with plenty to keep the reader engrossed and turning the page eagerly until the end. The magical aspects of the book are not only delightful because of all the literary references, but because none of the characters really know how the magical objects work.  Even when the young pages are given permission to ‘check out’ magical objects from the Repository they must leave something behind in return. What they exchange must be something they treasure inside them such as their sense of smell, sense of direction, vision, hope, will or other integral aspects of being a person. These trades also lead to confusion and amusing complications in their quest to find the culprit of the magical thefts.

The Grimm Legacy is a great book, not just because of all the references to the fairy tales so many of us grew up with, but because it humourously points out that magic, if we were lucky enough to experience it,  would probably cause as many problems as it would solve.

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