The Wells Bequest

The Wells BequestThe Wells Bequest is a companion to The Grimm Legacy. “Companion” is a deliberate word choice, rather than sequel, because while there is overlap, you could easily start with The Wells Bequest and not be at all confused. You will, however, have missed a wonderful book—The Grimm Legacy was one of my favorite books that I read last year.

The Wells Bequest also centers around the New York Circulating Material Repository, but instead of the Grimm collection of fantastical stuff from fairy tales, we learn about the Wells collection of items from science fiction and famous inventors. Our main characters are Leo and Jaya—who readers of The Grimm Legacy might remember as the younger sister of Anjali. Jaya is a teenager now, and the head page at the Repository. We also learn that there’s a similar repository in London!

Leo is a bit of a mad scientist himself—he tinkers with things and he sees visions of what could be done with mechanical things. He reminds me a lot of my 11 year old son who is constantly inventing things from office supplies. There are cameos from Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain, and Louis Latimer—with a name like The Wells Bequest, you knew there had to be time travel, right?

There are also hints of the third book in the works, which will focus on scary stories.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid

Death Rays, Terrorists, and Stalkers

Simon is a page from the London repository who is spending some time at the New York repository through a page exchange program. He has a crush on Jaya, and eventually it heads into totally creepy territory. He uses some underhanded methods to get Jaya to work in London for a while on the page exchange program, and she gets really mad at him. Wanting to undo this, he tries to get his hands on a working time machine and he threatens to blow up major cities using Tesla’s death ray—of course, he also plans to undo this once he has his hands on the time machine. Leo and Jaya manage to stop him by changing history. More on that in a moment.

Moral Ambiguity and the Power to Change History

If you have a time machine, should you change things? There’s no way to know the full implications of even your smallest and best intentioned actions. Leo and Jaya struggle with this throughout the book. When they do manage to stop Simon by making sure his grandfather gets arrested before he can take the plans for the death ray to England, they also end up unexisting Simon. Is that the same as killing him? Leo struggles a little with that, but since Simon was trying to destroy the world, he’s not all that worried about it. It grates on Jaya, though, and she goes back to find a different solution that doesn’t prevent Simon from ever existing.

There are several delightfully convoluted discussions about time travel and its possible effects. When my kids read this, I expect to be subjected to long philosophical ramblings as they work through it for themselves.

Diversity

Jaya’s family is Indian. This plays less of a role in this book than it did in The Grimm Legacy, but it still informs her as a character. Leo’s family is from Russia. Louis Latimer is African American, Nikola Tesla is from Serbia, and Simon is from England. The book makes a point of including a variety of cultures both in the characters and in the information it provides.

Science!

Everyone in Leo’s family is a scientist, including his sister and his mother. Leo stands out because he’s more inventor/engineer than pure scientist—his creative streak is something his family doesn’t really understand. I appreciated that, while his approach is different from his family’s, he’s still grounded in science. To be creative, you don’t have to be an artist or a musician or something. Leo attends a school that isn’t as scholastically rigorous as his sister’s, but it’s still focused on science and technology. They encourage their students to try fun experiments and there’s a lot of hands-on learning. It reminds me a lot of the school my son goes to.

Violence

When they need to stop time, Jaya suggests that Leo strangle her until she’s on the brink of death since she’s read that time slows down just before you die. He, wisely, totally refuses to even consider this.

Aside from Simon wanting to blow up the world, there are some physical altercations. Nothing major, though.

A Bit of History

There are all kinds of educational tidbits tucked into the book as the kids talk about traveling through time, where and when they’d go, who they’d meet. A few historical figures make cameo appearances and the author includes notes at the end to put those people in context. There’s also a bit from a librarian on how to catalogue things in a library! OK, I’m a library geek (yes, I worked as a page in the local library as a kid and in several libraries when I was in college), but I found that fascinating. How do you figure out the call number for a time machine? I know how to do that now!

Romance

Leo falls hard for Jaya from the moment he first sees her. She’s beautiful (although not conventionally so—and he repeatedly chides his past self for not thinking people who look like Jaya are gorgeous) and she’s vivacious, friendly, and smart. He’s not the only one who falls for her—Simon is willing to blow up cities for her. Sometimes her friendliness means that Simon and Leo misinterpret things. Leo assumes she likes him as a friend and nothing more, and Simon assumes she likes him as more than a friend. They’re both wrong.

When they need to stop time for a moment, Jaya surprises Leo by kissing him—and it totally works. At the very end, they share a long, sweet, and passionate kiss, with a bit of a time travel twist.

Swearing

Leo’s family has a great way of swearing—they use scientific terms instead. So if someone is being idiotic, you call them a “boson.” When something goes wrong, you mutter “Schist!” under your breath. Jaya picks up on this immediately. If you’re lucky, your kids will, too.

Recommendation

I thoroughly enjoyed this and, as I read, I kept thinking that it was as though someone wrote a book specifically for my son. When I described it to him, he grabbed it to start reading immediately—I’ll let you know what he thinks of it when he’s done.*

It’s a fun story no matter what, and a wonderful world for anyone who’s ever wondered if fiction could be real (and what avid reader hasn’t?), but The Wells Bequest particularly rewards readers who are fascinated by science and inventions—real and fictional. It’s good for precocious readers starting at maybe 9 or 10 up through adults. I can’t wait for the third book—I love the world of the New York Circulating Material Repository.

*Update: He says, “Tesla and time machines? Of course I loved it!” He devoured it—he’s not the fastest reader, but he kept a really good pace through this one. It’s one of the few books that has ever replaced electronic games for when we’re out somewhere. He did complain about the romance between Jaya and Leo—why is there always romance? he asks—but aside from that, he really loved it.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with an ARC (advanced reader copy) of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman
Published in 2013 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Companion to The Grimm Legacy
Read ARC provided by the publisher

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