© Jordan B. Nielsen, 2012

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In A Glass Grimmly

By Adam Gidwitz

Reviewed by Jordan B. Nielsen

Recommended for: Both boys and girls ages 10 and up for lightly handled, cartoonish gore and violence of the fairytale order. This is Gidwitz’s second book of retold tales from the Grimm universe, but it is not necessary to read them in order.

One Word Summary: Anecdotal.

Adam Gidwitz is back with another reweaving of classic fairytales from the Brothers Grimm that returns the tales to their original, gruesome roots in In a Glass Grimmly, a companion to his previous work A Tale Dark and Grimm. With new characters (Jack and Jill this time) and a new list of tales for them to trounce through, Grimmly retains the same sense of its predecessor’s mischievous fun, if failing to present the reader with something wholly different.

Told once again by an omniscient, modern narrator who frequently breaks from the telling to speak directly to the audience, Grimmly follows the exploits of Jack and Jill, cousins and royal refugees who must find an

enchanted mirror lost somewhere in the magical kingdom or suffer grizzly deaths. Jill is a Princess, daughter of a vain and ruthless Queen who has taught her daughter to value external beauty and the impressions of others above all else. Jack is the son of the Queen’s long lost brother, raised as a peasant in a small village. Desperate for the approval of his peers Jack will go to any lengths to impress, no matter how foolish, and receives only taunts and scorn for his sheep-like willingness to follow. While hiding out in the woods together, Jack and Jill meet a strange, elfin woman who promises them all the love and approval their hearts desire, if only they will find her lost seeing glass. Overly eager as ever, Jack agrees to the deal before hearing the proviso that if they fail in their quest it will cost them their lives. So with a timid talking frog in tow, who was once humiliated by Jill’s mother, an incident that cost him an arm as well as his pride, the three set off into the wide world.

In this adventure Gidwitz leads his characters not just through tales from the Grimm collection (like Jack and the Beanstalk) but has expanded his offering to include yarns like Hans Christian Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, and brushes with western folklore icons from goblins to mermaids. As with Dark and Grimm, the plots of these stories are stitched together to form a single, traveling narrative in which Jack and Jill serve as the protagonists. While the device provides a lot of fun in finding yourself emerging from one familiar story into the next, this selection of stories didn’t quite marry as naturally as his first, resulting in a more episodic feel than one of fluid movement. From the skytop home of the giants, to a costal fishing village to the bowels of the goblin caverns is an awfully long way to travel with only the quest for a mirror as the connecting thread.

But those episodes, however at odds, were as enchanting as ever. I found the sequence in which Jill is very nearly lured to a watery grave by a beguiling mermaid to be the book’s most effecting and atmospheric vignette. Those who enjoyed Dark and Grimm will find this story equal in charm, speed of pace, and of course, blood and guts. Gidwitz continues to walk his own drawn line between gratuitousness and maturity, between being in on the joke and the one pulling it off. It won’t be to the tastes of some parents, but if they’ve got a young reader interested in something a little bit scary, that doesn’t shy away from the grotesque, they might rest assured that there is no steadier hand to dole out the blood in reasonable doses than Gidwitz’s.  

For this reader’s tastes there was a newness missing from Grimmly. While the cover posits the book as “A Companion to a Tale Dark and Grimm”, and thereby seems to admit linear movement rather than forward, I couldn’t help but be pulled by a natural expectation for something different than what I’d experienced before. Will this matter to a kid who has read and loved the first book, or who skipped the first book all together? Likely not, and nothing would be lost by reading them out of order. But the effect of reading both Dark and Grimm and Grimmly is rather like watching a very talented magician preform the same extraordinary trick twice.

Be that as it may, Grimmly is something more than just an amusing diversion into the familiar. Gidwitz’s modern intonation and impish, almost guilty delight in the grizzly roots of these now very shopworn stories work effectively to kindle a spark. Having now conquered the fairy tale realm, I look forward to seeing him apply his talents to a fresh genre of children’s fiction.