Friday, January 14, 2011

The Unusual Suspects

by Michael Buckley
Star Rating: 3 out of 4
Book 2 of The Sisters Grimm series

The Sisters Grimm is on its way to being one of my favorite fantasy series ever. It's absolutely delightful. Every time a new fairy-tale character appears, I get a thrill of gleeful recognition and anticipation. There are so many fairy tale characters to use, too - endless possibilities! There are currently eight books and I think I'm going to have to read them all very soon.

In this installment, Sabrina and Daphne Grimm must start going to school. The girls, particularly Sabrina, have delayed this dreaded event for several weeks already, though as it arrives Sabrina reaches an excellent perspective on the matter (slight spoilers in the quote if you haven't read the first book):
Despite her delay tactics, Sabrina was actually looking forward to her first day of the sixth grade. School offered her something that Granny Relda's house didn't - normal people. She would be surrounded by dull teachers and glassy-eyed kids, watching the clock tick slowly, and she would be as happy as a pig in mud. When you lived with a flying boy and the Big Bad Wolf, a little boredom was welcome.
However welcome boredom might be, it doesn't appear in this volume. Sabrina's first day at school is grueling - Daphne, who has Snow White as her teacher, fares far better - especially when the day ends with the discovery of her teacher's dead body, apparently killed by an Everafter. It's up to Granny and the girls to solve the mystery, which gets deeper and thicker the farther they go.

This volume raised the issue of the appropriateness of violence and danger in children's lit for me. How much is too much? How scary is too scary? Granted, this book is nowhere near Harry Potter 7 or Hunger Games levels, but Sabrina and Daphne are only 11 and 7 respectively, so a little goes a long way. Still, I must admit, it made for a great adventure.

This book also incorporates a dark theme into the mix: bigotry. (Slight spoilers from Book 1 for the rest of the paragraph, but I don't think they can be avoided if I'm going to talk about the rest of the books in the series.) Ever since the girls found out that their parents are being held captive by a terrorist Everafter group, Sabrina, ever tough and increasingly angry, begins to develop a prejudice against all of them. At times, Sabrina really becomes quite ugly:
"Liebling, Everafters are people." Granny said, setting down her knife. "They have families and homes and dreams."
"And murderous plots, kidnapping schemes, and plans to destroy the town."
"You don't really believe they are all bad, do you? What about Snow White and the sheriff?"
"They're Everafters. We just haven't discovered what they're really up to yet."
Though Granny and others are quite clear through the story why Sabrina is wrong, Buckley makes a good case for Sabrina's side too. Her anger is wrongly generalized, it's true, but the book is sympathetic toward her reasons and the struggle she's been through thus far. It's a wonderfully nuanced depiction of that old adage to hate the sin but love the sinner; her troubles are real, and though her method of coping with them is unacceptable (Daphne refuses to speak to her at points), it's clear to see how she came to think and say the things she does. Sabrina is sometimes tough to like in this book, but neither she nor anyone else is a caricature.

In fact, one of the things I love most about these books is that the Everafters are three-dimensional. It'd be incredibly easy to pigeonhole each character into just what they were in their fairy tales, but Buckley, having created a world in which these people have lived for hundreds of years, gives them their defining traits but also allows them to grow. Each one is a brilliant and unique rendition. And even with the darker themes of this installment, Buckley keeps the funny coming:
"What's he doing?" Sabrina asked.
"Meditative yoga," Granny replied, as if this were the natural response. "It's helping him remain centered and calm. Keeps the dark stuff at bay."
Of course, the Big Bad Wolf does yoga, Sabrina thought. Why did I even bother to ask?
...and now, I'm off to read the third one! :-D

1 comment:

  1. I still need to pick up the second one, but that's an interesting theme that picks up in the second one - bigotry. I'll have to pick this one up soon since I enjoyed the first so immensely. Thanks for the thorough review!