The Grimm Legacy begins as a tale of an ordinary life: Elizabeth Rew is adjusting to her mother’s death, her father’s remarriage, and switching to public school so her father can help pay tuition for her two new stepsisters. She has nobody to sit with at lunch time and feels lonely and virtually invisible. After writing her term paper on the Grimm brothers, her friendly (if eccentric) history teacher offers her an after school job, which she accepts gratefully.
Elizabeth soon learns, however, that this is no ordinary job. She has been hired as a page at the New-York Circulating Material Repository, a sort of library for objects. The repository stores and lends out everything from china tea sets to Marie Antoinette’s wig. But what really surprises our fair heroine is when she learns that the basement of the repository houses the Grimm Collection – magical objects bequeathed to the repository straight out of fairy tales and folklore.
I love this premise for a young adult title, because not only does it make the mundane magical (how many high school students wish their after school job was a bit more glamorous?), it also takes the enchanted and makes it ordinary. Though apprehensive of these items at first, by the end of the book all the young repository pages have used magical objects in their everyday lives, with varying degrees of success and many unforeseen consequences.
A less-explored part of the basement houses collections based on H.G. Wells and William Gibson, prompting the question: is science fiction, or science, for that matter, a type of “magic”? We use technology to control natural forces in ways that previous generations could only guess at. Perhaps it is a natural progression from fairy tale magic to science fiction and fact. Either way, I would love a follow-up to this book that explores the other special collections in more detail.
The book turns adventurous as the teens try to solve the mystery of missing Grimm objects, disappearing repository pages, waning magic, and a giant bird that seems to be following them. There is also a light romance theme throughout, but not enough to distract from the main story line. Problems are overcome by honesty, trust, courage, and kindness more than any magical aids. Overall, a fun read that you can feel good about recommending to a young reader.
(I will admit that I was worried about the protagonist having a new stepmother and stepsisters, since we know how that usually turns out in fairy tales. Luckily they turned out to be more inconvenient than evil in Elizabeth’s life.)
A quick word about the book itself. Each chapter is prefaced with a drawing of an object and its call number, and you can expect that object to have a starring role in the pages beyond. This is actually what convinced me to buy the book (although I am a sucker for anything Grimm related): the idea that an author had bothered creating a system of call numbers for magical objects impressed and entertained me. For me, it added an air of credibility to a story that most definitely asks you to suspend disbelief.
Recommended for anyone, but especially fans of Neil Gaiman, John Connolly, and the Mysterious Benedict Society.