by Michael Buckley
Star Rating: 3 out of 4
Book 1 in The Sisters Grimm series
Sabrina and Daphne Grimm are orphans who, after a failed string of foster homes, are being shuttled off to their grandmother's house in a remote village. There's only one problem: before they disappeared, their parents told them that their grandmother was dead. The woman who comes to pick them up from the train station, Granny Grimm, is cuddly-looking enough, and Daphne, who's 7, likes her immediately. But Sabrina is 11 and feels she bears the mantle of responsibility for the two sisters; after so many horrible experience with other foster families, she doesn't trust "Granny" one bit.
This suspicion doesn't dim upon seeing Granny's house - it's a sweet little nook, but it borders a dark forest and has a dozen locks on the front door. Books about the house bear strange titles like "365 Ways to Cook a Dragon", and the spaghetti noodles they're served for dinner are, well, black. After that, Sabrina has had enough of crazy and decides they'll escape that night, only to discover that the forest is inhabited by... pixies??
I really enjoyed this book. It's written for a younger audience and rather reminiscent of the first Harry Potter book in that way, only instead of creating a new magical world, Buckley reinvents the magic of folk and fairy tales. The book is chock-full of magical creatures from legend: fairies, giants, magic mirrors, flying carpets, and many, many more. Granny, who (slight spoiler!) turns out to be legit, explains to the girls that the fairy creatures call themselves Everafters and are trapped in the town by an ancient bargain with Wilhelm Grimm, a Grimm Brother and their own ancestor: as long as a Grimm lives in Ferryport Landing, all the Everafters are kept there too. Granny acts as town detective by investigating strange occurrences, and before the girls are even settled, there's a mystery a-brewing.
It's really a brilliant cast of supporting characters - I don't want to say too much for fear of revealing all the fun! - but Buckley draws from fantasy both old and new. After Granny and her sidekick Mr. Canis (three guesses as to which Everafter he is, Latin-lovers!) are captured by a rampaging giant, Sabrina and Daphne - and Granny's intelligent Great Dane, Elvis - must figure out a way to rescue them and solve the mystery. The girls are aided, and in Sabrina's case, irritated by a young rogue they meet in the woods named...can you guess?... Puck. (The girls don't recognize the name, Sabrina having only gotten to Romeo and Juliet in school.)
Both the girls are smart and courageous, though in different ways: Sabrina is tough and wary, while Daphne is open-minded and good at creating bonds. They're wonderfully realistic as sisters. I particularly loved Sabrina's character because Buckley is so sympathetic toward her:
"How was I supposed to know?" Sabrina cried. "Anybody would have thought she was crazy!"Buckley's writing is often very funny, and the story moves along at a great pace. It's a treat to read, never knowing which fun character might show up on the next page, and there are clear through lines set up in this first book for the rest of the series. All in all, I thought it was fantastic, and I'll definitely be picking up the next one at the library soon!
"I didn't," Daphne said, finally breaking her silence.
"You don't count. You believe everything," Sabrina argued.
"And you don't believe in anything," the little girl snapped. "Why are we even talking? You don't care what I think, anyway."
"That's not true!" Sabrina said, but before the words had left her mouth she knew they were a lie. What Daphne thought hadn't mattered in a long, long time, at least not since their parents had deserted them. But it wasn't like Sabrina wanted it that way. She was only eleven and didn't want to have to make all the decisions for both of them. She would love to feel like a kid and not have to worry about whether they were safe. But that wasn't how things were.
(On a random note: what is it with orphans in children's books? I can probably list ten books off the top of my head featuring them... there should be a subset of children's lit studies devoted to orphan tales!)