The Grimm Legacy is one of the more original worlds I’ve encountered in a while. Elizabeth could be a modern day fairytale heroine. Her father remarried after her mother died, and Elizabeth’s stepmother expects her to do a lot of housework. Putting her stepsisters through college costs money, so Elizabeth recently had to give up ballet and the private school she used to attend. Her father loves her, but he’s distracted by his new family. In many ways, she’s alone.
When she writes a research paper on the Brothers Grimm, her odd social studies teacher takes an interest in her. He recommends that she get a job at the New York Circulating Material Repository—it’s like a library, except they lend things as opposed to books. Here, she becomes part of a special group of people who know that magic is real. In fact, it turns out that Elizabeth can smell magic. There are several special collections at the Repository, including the Grimm Collection of magical items and the Wells Bequest which includes futuristic inventions from science fiction.
Elizabeth meets fellow pages Anjali, Marc, and Aaron who help her figure out the mystery of the disappearing magic items. It’s an exciting adventure chockfull of obscure fairytale references (although they’re all explained in case you aren’t up on your The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm).
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Elizabeth’s home life isn’t great. She’s nearly Cinderella, and she misses her mother a lot. Marc adores his much younger brother, while Anjali finds her little sister annoying. However, both younger siblings have significant roles to play in the story. Elizabeth gets along well with the younger kids.
There are a variety of family types presented (blended, single parent, overprotective) and they all feel fairly realistic—there are problems, but they’re pretty typical instead of extreme. The parents do care about their kids, but other obligations, difficulty in getting along, etc., keep them from being available to solve every issue.
Anjali is Indian and Marc is African American. They’re both popular and widely considered to be extremely attractive. (In fact, through much of the book, Elizabeth has a crush on Marc while Aaron has a crush on Anjali.) Their younger siblings are clever and cute. Anjali’s parents are somewhat traditional—she hides her relationship with Marc from them because he’s not Indian. They do seem to accept it at the end, although Anjali’s little sister thinks they’re using reverse psychology. Anjali’s parents are the only ones who seem to have any issue with interracial/cultural relationships.
It turns out that Anjali and Marc both come from royal bloodlines. This leads to some complications, although it also brings them some magical advantages. Perhaps this is why they’re also so graceful, attractive, and nearly perfect in so many ways? Elizabeth and Aaron have no royal blood, and they’re jokingly referred to as the Scullery Maid and the Swineherd.
One of the villains hits Marc between the legs and he crumples to the ground. Three year old Andre has “to go” so he’s allowed to pee outside—he decides to draw a sun in the dirt. There’s a vague implication that he might have done some magic this way, bringing summer and flowers and helping Elizabeth find her way back. That’s some pretty impressive potty training.
Anjali and Marc obviously like each other a lot, and mid-way through the book there’s some heavy kissing and sneaking out to see each other. Elizabeth thinks Marc is really handsome and Aaron seems to have a crush on Anjali. However, eventually it becomes clear that they’re starting to fall for each other—although it remains tempestuous. There’s an imagined scene of heavy kissing, and in the end there’s real kissing, on a magic carpet, no less!
Violence & Tension
Something is happening to the pages at the Repository. There’s a scary huge bird stalking them. There are creepy people all around. Toward the end, Anjali and Marc are both turned into figurines by a collector—it’s kind of freaky. Her whole collection is actual princesses who were turned into dolls. A rat nearly eats Elizabeth after she’s been shrunk. No one gets hurt, really, but it’s not through lack of trying by the people behind the conspiracy.
There are good reasons why the pages can’t tell the truth about the Repository. Getting a job there and passing the tests opens up a world that needs to be kept secret—if everyone knew magic items were real, there would be absolute chaos. That secret is fine.
But because the whole issue with the missing items hinges on a traitor, the pages can’t trust anyone. I get it. It did start to get old, though, venturing into “Don’t tell the adults or you’ll shatter my plot!” territory. It did add some interesting tension among the pages, though—even they don’t fully trust each other until the book is nearly over.
I read a lot of fairytale based stories (which is part of what attracted me to this book to begin with), but this is one of the most original takes on the theme that I’ve read. A lot of the more obscure tales play a role, and the world Shulman creates is fascinating. I’ve worked in plenty of libraries, but none were as fun as the Repository. This is suitable for 10 and up. Despite a female protagonist and a bit of romance, I think the adventure will appeal to boys as well as girls.
Although the loose ends in this story are tied up, there’s a hint of possible sequels. I hope there are—I’d be happy to revisit this world. (Update: There is a sequel—The Wells Bequest—and another book in the works.)
The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
Published in 2010 by Scholastic
Read my hard copy