No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer

No Castles HereWhat I need, Augie thought, is a fairy godmother. She’d wave her magic wand, and poof, all my problems would disappear.

But nothing seemed to make his tormentors disappear.  Although Augie’s body was healing and his glasses were fixed, Dwaine, Sergio, and FoX Tooth dogged him wherever he went. His only refuge during the day was their classroom.  The class didn’t mess with Mr. Franklin.”

Augie is a scrawny kid from Camden, New Jersey.  He knows what to do: keep quiet, keep out of the way of the thugs and dealers, and try not to draw attention to himself.  It’s not fun, but it’s his life and he’s pretty good at managing.

However, it’s changing. One day he stumbles into a bookstore and accidentally (really! It was an accident!) steals a strange, perpetually-changing book of fairy tales.  Then his mom signs him up for a Big Brother-not only is he WAY too old for one, his Big Brother is gay.  Now, he likes Walter and all that, but he’s so afraid of what the bullies at school will do to him if they find out he reads fairy tales and is hanging out with a gay Big Brother.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a storm damages his school and the district makes plans to close it permanently and move all the students to other schools.  Then it would become just one more decrepit, abandoned building out of hundreds in their neighborhood.  But Augie’s tired of it-he doesn’t want to leave school and start over.  The bullies were just starting to leave him alone, and the school choir was sounding great and making everyone feel like a community.   What can be done?  He’s just a kid, but in this thoughtful debut novel, he demonstrates the power of working together.

This is a special book, friends, one with many layers and lots of things to think about after you’ve finished.  Augie’s story is interspersed with fairy tale chapters from the accidentally-stolen book, and many of his life experiences parallel those in the fairy tale.  As he reads, he begins to think about how fair is it really for him to be afraid to be seen with Walter, just because Walter is gay.  Augie feels differently, now-he sees how damaging the prejudices of others can be.  At the same time, he develops his own voice-he’s no longer the scared young man running from bullies.  Instead, Augie pulls together a plan to save his school, speaking up to the school board, and working together with the students who used to bully him.  And Walter?  Well, he likes having Walter around.  You see, things are different now.

Part fairy tale, part school drama, part coming-of-age story, this novel is one of the rare young adult stories to appeal equally to guys and girls.  I love Bauer’s treatment of Walter and his partner, and the natural way Augie’s feelings about it grew and changed.  This is one of the ALA’s Rainbow List books, specially recognized for its excellent treatment of GLBT subject matter.

Happy Reading!

Bauer, A.C.E. No Castles Here. New York: Random House, 2007. 270 pp.  Ages 11 and up.

If you liked this one, you’ll love these:

Boy 21 (one of my favorites!)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Time for Andrew

Hero (this book is seriously double-awesome, so even if it isn’t strictly related to No Castles Here, I still think you’ll love it!)

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

schoolforgoodandevil

“The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before.  Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each.  The ages were just as fickle; one could be sixteen, the other fourteen, or both just turned twelve.  But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear.  One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own.  The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth.  An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.”

Agatha is grim and gray and lives in a graveyard, while Sophie dresses only in pink and spends her days doing Good Works-together, they look the perfect picture of Good vs. Evil.  Thus, it’s no surprise when the pair is kidnapped and sent away to the legendary School for Good and Evil.  There, they will learn the fundamentals of fairy tales and what it takes to be the heroine or the villain in their beloved stories.  The very best students end up as stories, penned by the mysterious Storian, which then are  distributed all over the country.  In Sophie and Agatha’s tale, who will triumph?  Good has won for over two centuries…can Evil ever really win?  Furthermore, can anyone ever be all good or all evil?

All right, I have got to tell it to you straight:  for about half of the time while I was reading, I actively disliked this book.  For the other half of the time, I could see its charm.  This is a creative Harry Potter-esque magical boarding school fantasy, and it’s definitely going to appeal to readers clamoring for more fairy tale magic.  However, I took issue with several things.  First of all, it’s nearly 500 pages, and a bit convoluted-I have to say that several times, I needed to flip back to figure out what was going on.  But that’s all right-a more motivated reader could surely sort through the loose plot elements.

More seriously, I was upset with the book’s underlying theme of Good = Beautiful and Evil = Ugly.  There are repeated comments about obesity and physical deformities that I found both unnecessary and hurtful to readers.  When combined with the heteronormative “All Princesses Need is A Prince” message (during the story, the Good Girls are all waiting for their dream prince to ask them to the ball), I lost patience with the book. Really, this could have been great-there is a lovely twist ending that almost redeems the rest of the story, but it came too little, too late for me.

Happy Reading!

Book website (You can apply to the School for Good and Evil here!)

Chainani, Soman. The School for Good and Evil. Harper: New York, 2013. 488 pp. Ages 11 and up.

If it sounds like something you’d like to read (because there are some awesome parts to it, like the great school descriptions and the interesting fairy tale remixes), I’d recommend it with some other great feminist, body-positive texts, like these:

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley (a great graphic novel!)

Ever and Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

and, an oldie but goodie-Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

replacement“I hadn’t given away my secret because I didn’t even know how to say the secret out loud.  No one did.  Instead, they hung on to the lie that the kids who died were actually their kids and not just convincing replacements.  That way, they never had to ask what happened to the real ones.

That was the code of the town-you didn’t talk about it, you didn’t ask.  But Tate had asked anyway.  She’d had the guts to say what everyone else was thinking-that her true, real sister had been replaced by something eerie and wrong.  Even my own family had never been honest to come right out and say that.”

Mackie is a changeling, a replacement for a stolen baby.  His family, along with the entire town of Gentry, would like to continue acting as though this never happened, as though the town’s children did not sometimes disappear from their cribs, to be replaced with darker and more unnatural beings.  Of course, Mackie wishes he could ignore it, too, and that he could just be normal and play his guitar and never have to worry about how blood and metal make his head spin.  But when his friend (and love interest) loses her baby sister to Gentry’s underworld, he knows it’s time that someone acted.  He knows it’s time to stop keeping secrets.

Oh, I am so weak for paranormal stories, especially when they involve little children.  And young adult fiction is the perfect place for finding these stories, as the gore and shockingly sad endings are usually rare!  This particular book was a dark and interesting diversion, written by a Colorado author.  I’d been wanting to read it for months.  You’ll like the eerie premise:  as the story unfolds, you’ll learn that the town of Gentry is at the mercy of two feuding spirit sisters, and that townspeople have mutely accepted the child-switching as a price to pay for their relative good fortune.  It’s quite creepy, a bit gruesome (but blood makes me dizzy, anyway), and an original take on the changeling story.  Readers looking for romance will find it, readers looking to ignore it will find that possible, too.

I have a single small issue with the book.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bring it up, but I found it quite jarring.  At two points in the text, young women are referred to as “tart” and “hookers”, and you know what?  It is absolutely not ok. This is the kind of language that perpetuates violence against women, and it was a great disappointment to see it used unnecessarily in the story.

Aside from that, this is a ghoulish and creative tale of a cursed town and the dark forces at play beneath it.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://brennayovanoff.com/

Yovanoff, Brenna. The Replacement. Razor Bill, New York, 2010.  343 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you should check out Chimeanother paranormal fiction book with a similar premise.  And then Half World, and then there’s Libba Bray’s new book (it looks so good!!) called  The Diviners, which totally looks like it has some good creepiness in it.  Or,  how about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children?  Or any book out there with a dark gray cover and crows, or girls in puffy dresses, or blood on the cover-this is a hugely popular genre right now (lucky for me!) Oh, and there’s Huntress by Malinda Lo; it’s a small part of the plot, but there’s a changeling there, too.

For the younger readers looking for creepy, try A Drowned Maiden’s Hairor (next up on my list) Picture the Dead.

The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier

“‘There it waits.  Beyond my strength.  Promise me,’ pleaded the dragon.  ‘Daughter of men, cast my child upon the winds and into the furnace of the earth.  Call the wind to break open the earth and let out the hidden fire.  You must call the wind, and the wind must become fire.  Do you understand?  Swear it to me!'”

Trei is unusual; a refugee and foreign-born inductee into the kajurai, the flying protectors of the Floating Islands. Even some of his classmates are suspicious of him, thinking him a traitor infiltrating the school to learn the secret of dragon magic. His cousin, Araene, is also a bit different, insisting on being educated as a mage, even if it means she must dress as a boy.  However, their unique experiences prove vital when a neighboring country invades, and when the dragons suddenly and mysteriously leave, taking their powerful magic with them. Though they are barely older than children themselves, Araene and Trei must work together to hatch the last fire dragon’s egg and save their country from destruction.

This detailed and captivating fantasy relates the story of two cousins, both new students, who play key parts in saving their home, the  Floating Islands, from both losing the magic that protects it and from being invaded by a powerful neighboring nation.  The chapters alternate, with one being the perspective of Araene, who took refuge in the mage school after her parents were killed in a plague, and the next being from Trei’s perspective, who is studying to be a kajurai.  Though there is much backstory and many plot twists, they are handled masterfully, and it makes this quite an interesting fantasy (after the first three chapters of setup).  This original story had the feel of Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea and it was a delightful diversion from final projects. Fire dragons? Floating islands?  Girls who dress like boys in order to go to mage school?  What’s not to love? (Also, isn’t that cover art beautiful?)

Happy Reading!

Neumeier, Rachel. The Floating Islands. Bluefire Books: New York, 2011. 387 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

If you liked this book and you haven’t read A Wizard of Earthseathat would be a great place to start! If you loved the dragon element, another great classic is Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series.  I promise, you’ll love them!

Author’s website: http://www.rachelneumeier.com/

Half World by Hiromi Goto

“WANTED: For having appallingly become with child and risking the Half Lives of all citizens of Half World.  Fumiko and Shinobu Tamaki are considered pregnant and extremely dangerous.  Last seen seeking passage into the Realm of Flesh.  They must be caught and the pregnancy must be terminated.  Under no circumstances must a child be born in the Half World.

All sightings are to be reported to Mr. Glueskin at the Mirages Hotel. Creatures found harbouring the fugitives will be treated with perpetual cruelty, psychological, emotional, and physical.”

The three ancient realms have been thrown out of balance, dooming those in the nightmarish Half World to a life of perpetual suffering under the chilling reign of Mr. Glueskin, with no possibility of moving from the Realm of the Flesh to that of the Spirit.  Also lacking hope of ever moving into the Spirit Realm, those in the earthly Realm of the Flesh become destructive and violent.   It has continued in this way for millennia.

Everyone is waiting for a baby, the baby that will save them all.

When Melanie’s mother disappears, Melanie learns of the prophecy, and understands that she is that baby.  She and her mother were granted passage from the Half World into that of the Flesh, but only for fourteen years.  After that time, her mother had to return, or else risk the torturous death of Melanie’s father, who had to stay behind.  Melanie must venture into the horrors of the Half World, find her family, and restore balance to the Realms.

This innovative fantasy enthralled me; I finished the book in five hours.  While the plot appears formulaic at first glance, I promise you, it’s the good kind of formula: the one that brought us Lord of the Rings and The Odyssey.  Furthermore, the mythic base is embellished with a cast of unforgettably ghoulish horrors that feel as though they’ve been transplanted from a Bosch painting.  Seriously, Mr. Glueskin is a literary monster rivaling the Crooked Man, and the nightmarish tableau of the Half Realm is truly a horrible place.  This ALA Best Book also won the Canadian Sunburst Award for Literature of the Fantastic, and both awards are richly deserved.  This is a great starter book for readers who would like to explore more fantasy books, but are put off by the elaborate backstories that sometimes characterize the genre.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.hiromigoto.com/

Half World website (it’s pretty!): http://www.halfworld.ca

Goto, Hiromi.  Half World. Illus. Jillian Tamaki. Puffin: Toronto, 2009. 230 pp. Ages 14 and up.

Read this one first before you decide to read it out loud, ok?  It’s a perfect story for sharing, but the monsters are quite dreadful, and not for the faint-hearted.

If you liked this book, you might want to explore Neil Gaiman.  His book Neverwhere is a great place to start! Other read-alikes are Malinda Lo’s Huntress and Rick Riordan’s Lightning ThiefIf you loved the beautiful illustrations, you should check out the graphic novel Skim, also the work of artist Jillian Tamaki.

 

Chime by Franny Billingsley

“I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.

Now, if you please.

I don’t mean to be difficult, but I can’t bear to tell my story.  I can’t relive those memories-the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp.

How could you possibly think me innocent? Don’t let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies.  A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart.”

Briony conceals her second sight and forces herself to use her right hand because in Swampsea, witches are hanged, and Briony absolutely, positively, must not die.  Dying, you see, would break her promise: she must always live so she may take care of Rose.  Briony’s life is consumed with care for her identical twin, Rose, in an attempt at penance for a childhood accident that irreparably changed her. However,what is she to do when saving her sister’s life means that Briony must sacrifice her own?

Briony’s scrupulously honest, don’t-pity-me, prickly demeanor does nothing to conceal her vulnerability; she is a multi-dimensional artwork of a narrative persona, relating a chilling tale of secrets, bargains with spirits, and subterfuge. Furthermore, she’s unreliable: readers are unsure exactly what the truth is. Briony hates everything, including herself, and Billingsley’s masterful characterization prevents her from reading as selfish or irritating. You’ll love the distilled gems of bleaks humor like this:  “Skipping meals is terrifically convenient: It gives one lots of time to brood and hate oneself”.

The language itself is another reason to love this story.  In an interview, Franny Billingsley said that she drew inspiration from the wordplay in folk songs and ballads, and definitely adds another layer of appeal to the novel.  Words invert and rhyme, creating an interesting textual parallel for the reader’s changing perceptions of the characters and the story as layer after layer of deception is excoriated.  Adding to the literary complexity of the work is the story’s structure! It’s not difficult to follow, but hearing the tale backwards, from the moment we know Briony is to die, brings a sense of urgency to the story. Finally, even though we begin the story knowing the ending already, Billingsley manages to keep us wondering and worrying about it.

This creepy and enthralling novel was a finalist for the National Book Award last year, amid some controversy.  I found it a combination of delightful elements that are so often honored by the award, including high literary merit.  Furthermore, the romance (yes, there’s romance, but I promise it isn’t offensively saccharine!) is based on equality and mutual respect and tenderness, which is delightful to see in these paranormal books, as they often rely on tired stereotypes of straight relationships.  The one concern I have is one the author herself has also acknowledged, that of the “beauty barrier”.  Books about non-beautiful young women are disappointingly scarce, and this is no different.  Billingsley missed a perfect opportunity to give us a complex and appealing heroine while also affirming the importance of other values besides traditional beauty.

That said, if you love witches and swamps and the feeling you get when you read Jane Eyre, this one’s for you.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.frannybillingsley.com

Billingsley, Franny. Chime. New York, Speak, 2011. 361 pp. Ages 14 and up.

If you liked this one, you can rejoice: the author claims she has two related novels she is working on!  While you are waiting, you can check out books like Beauty and Ash and  Castle Waiting (for the feminist graphic-novel antidote to the stereotypical beautiful heroine) and Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyrefor the classic take on creepiness.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I do not often come walking, boy, the monster said, only for matters of life and death. I expect to be listened to.

The monster loosened its grip, and Conor could breathe again. ‘So what do you want with me?’ Conor asked.

The monster gave an evil grin. The wind died down and a quiet fell. At last, said the monster. To the matter at hand. The reason I have come walking.

Conor tensed, suddenly dreading what was coming.

Here is what will happen, Conor O’Malley, the monster continued, I will come to you again on further nights.

Conor felt his stomach clench, like he was preparing for a blow.

And I will tell you three stories.  Three tales from when I walked before.

At 12:07 every night since Conor’s mother took a turn for the worse, the monster comes to visit.  Looking like an enormous yew tree, and leaving trails of spiky leaves on Conor’s bedroom floor, he demands something of the young man.  In trade for three of his stories, Conor must tell his own.

But he cannot do it.  Even though the ancient monster is terrifying, full of magic older than time, even though Conor is not even sure he has a choice, he is too afraid.  He is more frightened of revealing his own nightmare than of anything the monster could do.  However, when he begins to believe that telling the truth will somehow heal his mother, from the cancer ravaging her body, he musters up the courage to share the truth of his worst nightmare with the monster.

Just like The Book of Lost Things, this is a story about sickness, the isolating nature of grief and fear, and the place of stories in our lives.  The book was inspired by an idea from the award-winning author, Siobhan Dowd, who passed away before the story could be written.  Patrick Ness, the author of The Knife of Never Letting Go picked up her torch and, with illustrator Jim Kay, created a book that you won’t soon forget.  The story is messy, in much the same way that life is.  Sometimes, our loved ones do not heal, despite the hope we have.  We make harmful choices.  Our friends betray us, and we do the same to them.  However, that is the appeal of the story:  I loved this book not only for its haunting illustrations, but also for its honesty.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.patrickness.com

Ness, Patrick. A Monster Calls. Candlewick: Somerville, 2011. 205 pp. Ages 12 and up.

If you are a younger reader and trying to find books about loved ones with serious illnesses, Notes from the Dog is a good place to start.  If you are older, you might want to try The Fault in Our Stars.  If the story-telling part was what you loved about this book (and you’re a younger reader) The Neverending Story is a classic book about the importance of stories.  If you’re older, and some gruesome bits do not upset you, The Book of Lost Things is my very, very favorite.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

“‘The elephant,’ said the fortuneteller.

‘What?’ Peter said.  He opened his eyes, certain that he had misunderstood.

‘You must follow the elephant,’ said the fortuneteller. ‘She will lead you there.’

Peter’s heart, which had risen up high inside of him, now sank slowly back to its normal resting place.  He put his hat on his head.  ‘You are having fun with me,’ he said.  ‘There are no elephants here.’

‘Just as you say,’ said the fortuneteller.

‘That is surely the truth, at least for now. But perhaps you have not noticed: the truth is forever changing.’

Before the coldest of the grayest winters the city has ever seen, Peter approaches the mysterious fortuneteller with trepidation.  He knows he is an orphan, but…but he remembers a baby crying, a sister.  Is she still alive, he wants to know?  If she is, how can he find her?

The fortuneteller’s answer seems unbelievable: where would Peter find an elephant, anyway? However, with the scrap of hope and a fortuneteller’s cryptic message, Peter embarks on an adventure that will not only change an entire city, but also bring him the family he longs for.

I was a terrifically anxious child. We’re talking escaping-from-kindergarten-on-foot-to-avoid-standardized-testing, elaborate-separation-rituals-including-begging-and-possibly-vomiting, germ-phobic-before-hand-sanitizer-was-a-thing kind of nervous.  It wasn’t pretty, friends, and the calmest moments of my childhood were when my parents or teachers read out loud to me.  For that reason, I am on a perpetual quest for The Perfect Sharing Read-Alouds: those books that are interesting to both adults and little ones, with the stories full of things to prepare you to face the world. Since they are bedtime books, a soothing quality is important.  Funny is definitely a plus.  Illustrations? Absolutely.

I’m pleased to tell you that The Magician’s Elephant is possibly one of the most perfect books for sharing.  A fortuneteller whose tent appears one day and is gone the next? A long-lost sister? An orphanage whose door is always guarded by a nun, waiting to welcome all that are lost? A magician who has just accomplished the most stunning bit of magic of his life?  A bewildered elephant?! Yes, oh yes.  And while the plot elements and characters are creative and wonderful in themselves, the illustrations and tone combine to form a story about love and families and bravery that will break your heart, it’s so pretty.

The author, Kate DiCamillo, says this about her book: “I wanted. I needed. I longed to tell a story of love and magic.  Peter, Adele, the magician, the elephant-all the characters in this book are the result of that longing.  I hope that you, the reader, find some love and magic here.” I did! I think you will, too.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.katedicamillo.com

DiCamillo, Kate. The Magician’s Elephant. Candlewick: Somerville, 2009. 201 pp. Ages 8 and up.

Would you like to know what other books are on my Sharing List?

The Hobbit

Toys Go Out

The Neverending Story

The Adventures of Hugo Cabret 

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Phantom Tollbooth

I’d love to hear your suggestions!  What books are you sharing?

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

“Every fairy tale, it seems, concludes with the bland phrase ‘happily ever after’. Yet every couple I’ve ever known would agree that nothing about marriage is forever happy.  There are moments of bliss, to be sure, and lengthy spans of satisfied companionship.  Yet these come at no small effort, and the girl who reads such fiction dreaming her troubles will end ere she departs the altar is well advised to seek at once a rational woman to set her straight.”

Ben’s parents were assassinated and she ends up as a charge of Queen Sophia, who is determined to shape Ben into the image of proper royalty.  This means diets, dancing, needlework, and genteel conversation, and Ben wants none of it.  As a result of her truculence, Ben is relegated to a locked tower.  Rather than give in to despair or decide to comply meekly,  she begins teaching herself magic.  At night, she practices her craft, trying to gain enough skill to escape.  Her secret lessons are put into use when the kingdom is threatened by a neighboring country, and the fate of the nation rests on her knowledge and skills.

I am constantly searching for fairy tale retellings that do not favor beauty over character, and uphold marriage as the ultimate goal for young women, and I’ve finally found one!  Ben is overweight, though the descriptions of her body are neutral, rather than shaming, and her body never approaches the stereotypical ideal throughout the course of the novel.  (I am always heartbroken when authors begin with a character who is not traditionally beautiful, but she transforms during the story, leaving us with the ultimate message that being conventionally pretty is still necessary for a happy life.)  Even though Ben is taken captive and spends two months as a prisoner of war on a starvation diet, she never becomes slender; I like this nod to the idea of a set weight point for each body, and the acknowledgment that diets do not work.  (Did you know that only five percent of all dieters are able to keep the weight off permanently?  But if businesses can use advertisements to make women feel ashamed of their bodies, they will still spend lots of money on diet products, even if 95 percent of them will not be able to lose weight long-term.)

Furthermore, Ben discusses her marriage with the most straightforward feminist speech that I’ve ever read in a young adult book, and I am so grateful to the author for it!  This book is a treasure: it strikes the right balance of magical fairy tale elements, well-rounded characters, and creative plotting, and the message it sends about beauty and self-reliance is refreshing.  Look for dragons, political intrigue, a hilarious commentary on the odiferous nature of adventures, and a reversal of the kiss-the-unconscious-princess-and-love-will-wake-her-up trope. Though Ben does seem overwhelmingly, unilaterally grumpy and spoiled in the first sections of the book, she develops into a multifaceted, realistic character in the second half of the book, and it’s worth pushing through the crankiness.  Final awesome thing?  The full title of the book: Princess Ben: Being a Wholly Truthful Account of her Various Discoveries and Misadventures, Recounted to the Best of her Recollection, in Four Parts.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.catherinemurdock.com/cm/home.html

Murdock, Catherine Gilbert. Princess Ben. Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 2008. 344 pp. Ages 14-18.

If you liked this book, I think you’d love the graphic novel Castle Waiting, for the strong feminist message.  If graphic novels aren’t your thing, though, you would probably like Beauty, Fairest, Everor Ella Enchanted. There are so many good books out there for readers who love fairy tales, but are disheartened by the beauty myth present in so often in them!

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

“‘What do you have, then?’ I asked.

‘Oh, spindles and straw and beans and tears.  A glass coffin. A golden egg.  A number of things.  The Grimms were serious and thorough collectors, and of course we’ve added to the collection a great deal over the years, objects associated with other fairy tale and folklore traditions.  I’m especially proud of our French holdings-we have the best collection outside the Archives Extraordinaires in Paris.'”

Elizabeth has a new job as a page at the New York Circulating Materials Repository.  It may sounds stuffy, but it is far from it! The Repository is a very special lending library for objects of all kinds, including magical ones collected by the Brothers Grimm.  Patrons can visit and borrow anything from chess sets and egg cups to magical table settings that offer never-ending food and the slippers of the Twelve Dancing Princesses (though, I don’t know why they’d be useful, as the soles are all worn through).   For the most part, Elizabeth’s  job is straightforward-she puts items in their proper places and helps patrons find what they need.  However, when a coworker begins acting suspiciously, and magical objects are being replaced with clever fakes, Elizabeth decides to act, in order to protect the collection.  She’s not sure whom she can trust, but she knows she has to do something to solve the mystery and prevent the Grimm treasures from being lost forever.

I’ll admit it-I’m terribly jealous of Elizabeth’s job! Not only does she get to do things like speaking to the magic mirror of Snow White, she even earns borrowing privileges for the Grimm Collection.  Wouldn’t you love to take home a mermaid comb or try out some seven-league boots?  The descriptions of the magical objects were the best part of this book; I even learned about fairy tales I’d never heard of before (the Spirit in the Bottle, anyone?).  The library sounds like my idea of paradise; there’s even a special science fiction object collection, and a magical indoor forest.  The plot is original, and the details won’t disappoint you.

I waited a long time to review it, though; there were just a few things that concerned me about this otherwise lovely book.  First, a positive: there is a very diverse cast of characters in this text.  Elizabeth’s friend Marc is black, and her other friend, Anjali, is Indian.  While I dearly, passionately love to see racial diversity in young adult literature, there was something about the way the characters were presented that made me feel uncomfortable.  On the one hand, it was refreshing to see a cast of characters that wasn’t all white.  On the other hand, the repeated mentions to characters’ races made the text seem as though it was too conscious of its own diversity-at times, I felt like I was unable to focus on the story, or see the characters as having other qualities outside of their ethnicity.  Sometimes, the text seemed to be exoticizing Marc and Anjali; Marc turns out to be an African prince, while Anjali is an Indian princess, and there is a lot of focus on the maxims of Marc’s tribe, for example, and Anjali’s exotic beauty.  When a story presents “outsiders”, or characters from another culture, but does so in a way that draws a lot of attention to the differentness of those characters, it can be patronizing.   Furthermore, I felt that Marc’s characterization was stereotypical; he was a basketball star, which isn’t negative in itself, but I would like to see authors presenting us with images of young black men involved in other activities besides sports.

With that said, I do not think this is an intentionally prejudiced book.  I only wanted to draw attention to the way race was treated in the story.  When you’re reading, you can start thinking about how minority characters are described: are the characters well-rounded, rather than being flat or reduced only to their race?  Do descriptions of the character seem to align with common stereotypes, or is he or she treated as an individual?  The way race, gender, and any other identity categories are presented in the media can contribute to stereotypes, and that’s why I felt I had to bring it up.  If every African American character we read about is a basketball player, it limits our perceptions of them -what about African American chemists?    Is it awesome that Shulman had such diverse characters?  Absolutely!  However, if we are moving to an ultimate goal of eradicating prejudice, it would have been more effective to have a diverse cast without dwelling on their respective differences and how exotic and interesting they are because of their ethnicity.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:pollyshulman.com

Shulman, Polly. The Grimm Legacy. Puffin: New York, 2010. 325 pp.  Ages 11-15

This is a creative story with skillful fairy tale references and creative details.  If you’d like more on fairy tales, try A Tale Dark and Grimm.  You could also try any of the books by these authors: Eva Ibbotson, Shannon Hale, and Gail Carson Levine! Here’s a nice list of good books in the genre from Goodreads, too.  This is one of my favorite genres and I’m always hunting for more like this, so I’ll keep you posted!