Monday, November 28, 2011

The Grimm Legacy, by Polly Shulman

So there I was, standing in front of my suitcase and wondering which book I should put into it. I planned to be on an airplane for about 5 hours, but with two kids to oversee. I wasn't sure how great my reading chances would be. I picked The Grimm Legacy because it's on my Fall Into Reading Challenge list and it looked light, fun and had the most possibility for holding my attention while traveling. (It also didn't take up much space in the suitcase.)

The one and only reason I actually read this book - all the way through - was because I was stuck on an airplane with no other reading material available to me. It was nauseatingly horrible, and caused slight illness which in no way related to the slight turbulence experienced.

This book can be classified as YA Fiction for all the reasons why I hate YA Fiction. This book has it all! Ridiculous high school (or middle school....I couldn't tell) romances, poor writing, implausible storyline and a whole lot of fantasy (literal and figurative) which, for some reason, sells. In fact, the only thing that this book has going for it is the cover art, the title and a promising premise. (I was actually being incredibly nice and generous in that last sentence. But don't hold your breath for any more generosity wherein this book is concerned.)

The premise is this (copied from the back cover because I'm feeling incredibly lazy when it comes to trying to make this book sound interesting in my own words:)

"Elizabeth has just started working as a page at the New York Circulating Material Repository, a lending library of objects - contemporary and historical, common and obscure. And secret, too - for in the repository's basement lies the Grimm Collection, a room of magical items straight from the Grimm Brothers fairy tales. But the magic mirrors and seven-league boots and other items are starting to disappear. And before she knows it, she and her fellow pages - handsome Marc, perfect Anjali, and brooding Aaron - are suddenly caught up in an exciting but dangerous adventure!"

It sounds intriguing, right? Bleh.

Things I did not like about the book:

  1. Author Polly Shulman described the character of Elizabeth as being one who is loyal, brave and honest. Over and over again, in fact, she suggests that Elizabeth is an honest soul. She scores well on exams without cheating, she only makes friends with personalities that she truly likes and she somehow gained the respect of all of her elders. However, despite the fact that her authorities repeatedly tell her that if she notices anything suspicious going on with the Grimm Collection of items she is to report it immediately, she never does so. She "rationalizes" her way out of going to the adults in the story and buys all kinds of lies which her "friends" are telling her about what they are doing with various items in the collection. Elizabeth constantly falls prey to the fallacy that her friends, calling themselves such, will never lie to her and therefore she probably shouldn't "bother" an adult with problems that she and the others encounter. A truly honest soul - which again, Shulman wants you to believe Elizabeth is - would see, hear and know that she was witnessing suspicious problems related to the Grimm Collection. She should have made haste to tell an adult about such problems.
  2. Conservative Reader Alert!: Teenage drama, drama, drama. Crushes. Long, slow kisses. Arms wrapped around each other. It actually sickens me to even have to try to describe this in a review. Shulman apparently buys into the idea that teenagers are totally capable of having adult romantic relationships and goes so far as to suggest that one is happening and has an adult figure wink it off. This is totally repulsive to me. The parents in the story were buying all kinds of lies about where their daughters actually were at night and never questioned the behavior of any of the teens, despite being given good reason to ask questions. The gross mishandling of their parental responsibilities was unfathomable to me. I suppose some might say that this book is for older teen readers. I would say that there are far better books out there that could be read and that if you find yourself stuck on an airplane with only this book or Sky Mall - you might do well to give great consideration to Sky Mall, no matter the age of your reader!
  3. While the premise of the story is intriguing on its face, it was not written out in a very clear, straightforward manner. I felt like Shulman had scads of ideas to incorporate into her story but was limited as to page space and therefore certain interesting aspects of the story (i.e., a very large and scary bird which appears periodically throughout the book) falls flat during the last two chapters when Shulman is frantically trying to wrap up all of the loose ends to her tale. There were too many good ideas and instead of culling her thoughts, she ran down about a hundred and fifty rabbit trails and then had to hurry up and offer a line of conclusion for each element at the very tail end of the book. As a result, I, as the reader, felt that the story was chaotic with lots of characters shouting at me all at once to hear their story and figure out how things applied to them. It's not that you cannot understand what has, is and did happen but it's a whirl of words that can give you a headache. I also think that Shulman's manner of writing out conversation between characters leaves a bit to be desired and the conversations easily jarred me out of the story - allowing me a second on each occasion to exhale and roll my eyes around in my head a bit - as I read through.
  4. You know how it is when you watch a movie and sometimes you think to yourself, "It's amazing how much can happen in your life when you don't have to stop and go to the bathroom!"? How many times have you or others commented on the fact that characters on screen never have to break for the necessary? Well, I will never complain about that lack of realism in a story again after Shulman attempted to provide breaks for one particular character. Awkward. I think I would just like to know what the human body has need of without it being spelled out for me. I'm infinitely happier that way.

I considered leaving this book on the plane instead of taking up time and space repacking it. Then I feared that the person who sat in my seat after me might actually read it. Repeating after myself, "Be kind one to another, tenderhearted..." I opted to use both the time and the space to repack the book so that I could come home and dispose of it properly without risking scalding the mind of another.

My advice? Do not waste your time with this one.

Feeling like a good twist on a fairytale? I'd suggest checking out Entwined, by Heather Dixon instead. (Linked to my review.) Or anything by Robin McKinley.


Anonymous said...

Whew! I'm glad to find another person not enamored with the book. Excellent write-up of the books weaknesses.
The whole premise fell flat for me.
We were constantly told in the book how dangerous/powerful etc. some of the items in the collection were, some were so dangerous that they couldn't be entrusted to the adult lending population, yet there are irresponsible teenagers given complete access to them? Completely baffling.

Bluerose said...

How disappointing! Well, this one was promptly taken off my want list!
I thought it was a young reader's book, instead of young adult, too.
I'm heartbroken! :)

I'm glad you read and reviewed it, though! Now I can easily pass on it.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

It is annoying when an author forgets to "show, not tell" when drawing characters. A character is discovered, not described.
I, too, have wondered how YA sells. Are today's young people so absolutely ignorant of what good writing looks like?

Annette W. said...

I hope you add that review to Amazon to warn people off!

Barbara H. said...

The cover is intriguing -- too bad the rest of the book is not.

B said...

Good to know -- I'll pass on this one :)

Stephanie Kay said...

Hmm... the premise kinda sounds like Warehouse 13 - a scifi show we enjoy thanks to Hulu. Basically there's a giant secret warehouse and agents go around secretly collecting items that have gained extra (and usually deadly) powers. It's entertaining and cute.

Queen of Carrots said...

Ouch, I feel for you. I also hate stupid teen romance. (I don't mind romance in YA books if the characters are close to marrying age in their culture and they actually start out as FRIENDS or something first and treat it as a serious matter, but falling all over each other in a clearly short-term deal--ick.)
However, I agree the cover is great. Hopefully the cover artist can get some better books to cover for.

Shonya said...

Tee, hee, I'm trying to decide which I like better--your reviews of books you love or those you really don't like! ;)

And to respond to Diary of an Autodidact, yes, sadly, today's young people simply ARE that ignorant. Even worse, I think their parents are as well! Too much television and video games is my guess. . .that and the erroneous idea that "it doesn't matter what you read as long as you read" that our educational system has both espoused and embraced.

bekahcubed said...

Oh yikes. That sounds...painful. But, I , like others, really enjoy your negative reviews!

Sky said...

I cringe every time I walk by the YA section at a bookshop, firstly because most of the titles have something to do with vampires these days, secondly, because they depict such a shallow, selfish view of love!
I'll do you one better on the wrong-choice-of-airplane-book though;
Someone gave me the first book in the George RR Martin series; "You'll love it! It's medieval AND fantasy!"
I found it to be horrifying, repulsive and brutal. If I could have thrown it out the plane window, I would have.
Sadly though, the author is a good writer. But the creep factor overrides his talent. If I had known it was also being made into an HBO series I would have known better.
I cleansed my palate by purchasing an Agatha Christie in the airport book shop! YES, it was worth 12.95!

Pam K. said...

If you want to read retelling of fairy tales, try "The Healer's Apprentice" by Melanie Dickerson. It is also YA, which I don't usually read. However, I'd seen excerpts and a trailer for this book and was intrigued. I bought it for my daughter but I also read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. She has a new book out now, "The Merchant's Daughter" that looks equally enchanting. I'm not sure why these are marketed as YA; they could appeal to a variety of ages.

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