What if your mom had died, and your dad remarried a woman with two older daughters? What if he had to pull you out of your school so that he could pay for the step-sisters' college tuition? What if the step-sisters were not so nice? You might really really relate to fairy tales, for one thing...
Meet Elizabeth Rew. She is a high school student in NYC. She attends a private school, but not the one she used to attend - Dad moved her to pay for the wicked step-sisters' tuition. Step-mom herself is a fairly absent, but not terribly benevolent figure, and Dad no longer pays much attention to Elizabeth. She's lonely, not just because of the new school and feeling awkward there, but also because there's not much family life to speak of.
One bright spot in her life is her social studies teacher, Mr. Mauskopf. He assigned a research project, and Elizabeth chose the Grimm stories as her subject, because they were a link to a happier time with her mother. He was impressed, and recommended her for a job at the New-York Circulating Material Repository, where he himself used to be a page.
The Repository is, in Elizabeth's words, "like a library," but rather than loaning out books, they loan out objects. They have everything from, yes, books, to furniture, clothing, sports equipment, instruments, fondue pots...and everything else under the sun. Elizabeth is told that some objects are historical, like Marie Antoinette's wig, and a lot of objects that set designers and the like would borrow, but some, like the fondue pots, are more for the occasional party host.
Also working as a page at the Repository is her high school's star basketball player, Marc (tall, dark and handsome!), sourpuss Aaron, and a beautiful and friendly girl named Anjali. Pretty soon, the other pages let slip about the "Grimm Collection" that is housed in the basement of the Repository. The collection houses the actual magical items from fairy tales. Snow White's step-mother's mirror, for example, is pretty rude, but has to tell the truth. Only some patrons can borrow the items, because they do still contain magic. The Collection can be dangerous, but how cool is that?
However, something is awry at the Repository. One previous page was fired, and another has disappeared completely. Items from the Grimm Collection are missing or aren't working properly. An enormous bird has been spotted following Anjali.
Dr. Rust, the Repository director, quickly realizes that Elizabeth is trustworthy, and she's given access, both as a page and a borrower, to the Grimm Collection. Aaron, however, is not quite as convinced of her worthiness, particularly since Elizabeth and Anjali both seem to be helping Marc do something not strictly by-the-book.
The pages must try to figure out what is happening to the Collection, protect themselves, and generally save the day. I loved that they have to do it while not quite trusting each other - it gave an element of realism and truth, rather than just being an "everyone's great to each other" fantasy world.
I can't overstate how much I enjoyed this book. I picked it up off the desk of one of my favorite 6th grade teachers, to read while the class was in French. I didn't want to put it down to go retrieve them, and I came straight home and bought it so that I could continue to read it as soon as possible.
The characters are believable (particularly for being in a fantasy novel) and the writing is tight and has a great voice. The author knows how to keep up the suspense - again, the fact that the four kids don't become instant best friends helps both with the realism and the suspense - and she is very good at description. The ending is nice and satisfying without being totally cloying or expected.
Ms. Shulman has some subtle fun with the Grimm stories, too - at points along the way, Elizabeth both becomes shoeless and has to hurry home to do chores. Those little tie-ins that might not be noticed by the youngest of readers really amused me.
Anjali has a sister, Jaya, who is 10 - the rest of the group, obviously, is in high school - and Jaya is a great addition, both for comic relief, and for bringing the book to the younger audience. She doesn't just stand by annoying the older kids, which, I think, would make younger sisters everywhere feel vindicated. ;)
The vocab and content are NOT high school age. The back cover recommends the book for ages 10 and up, and I totally agree, giving it a PG rating. Though the main characters are older, the book is definitely written more for the tween crowd. There is a bit of romance (characters kiss more than once, about along the lines of Ron & Lavender in Book 6 of the Harry Potter series) but there isn't anything overly graphic, and there is no language. There is more "creepiness" than "violence" within the book, as far as scariness.
I think my boys will love this book, even though the main character and point-of-view are Elizabeth's. I highly recommend it for the 10-13 year-old crowd.