The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman (Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99, Ages 10 and up) is reviewed by Hilary Taber.
If you had the power to time travel in order to stop a horrible event from happening would you do it? Would you change history? Yet how much of history is really safe to change, without altering present reality?
In this stand-alone companion novel to The Grimm Legacy, author Polly Shulman revisits the earlier venue of the New York Circulating Material Repository. This provides the reader with another set of adventures within the walls of the Repository, revealing more of the secrets hidden therein. The New York Circulating Material Repository isn’t a library for books, instead it houses objects of every kind imaginable. If a page would demonstrate that they are both capable and trustworthy, they might be able to look at and even borrow magical objects from the special collections.
In The Wells Bequest we meet Leo, an aspiring scientist and Jaya, the head page at the library. The library is facing a huge problem. One of the library’s pages, a boy named Simon, has gotten hold of Nikola Tesla’s death ray. Jealous of Leo and Jaya’s relationship, Simon must now be stopped from blowing up New York City into smithereens! Luckily, the Wells Bequest contains a time travel machine straight from H.G. Well’s book The Time Machine. Leo and Jaya must travel through time back to the 1890s in order to stop Simon’s evil plans. The clock is now ticking for Leo and Jaya. They must save their city, their families, friends, and the library itself from disappearing forever.
What impresses me most about both The Grimm Legacy and The Wells Bequest, is the sheer amount of research that I know must be at the heart of both these books. Intricately detailed, Ms. Shulman’s research adds depth to her fantasy world, making it even more believable. The Well’s Bequest is rich in background information that is both scientific and historical which makes it that rare kind of children’s book that instructs without resorting to lecturing. For example, did you know that Mark Twain knew Nikola Tesla? I didn’t before I read this book, but now I do! I wanted to high five someone when Mark Twain appeared as a character in the book (how cool is that?!), but it was three in the morning, so I waited. It is also worth noting how well-drawn the characters in the book are, especially the relationship between Leo and Jaya. Their relationship kept the plot lively and was realistic. It was full of the humorous, mild bickering that friends enjoy. They each admire the abilities the other possesses, and their friendship develops into a light romance.
Fans of Rick Riordan’s books, and those of us longing for another sort of Hogwarts (that we can imagine we could be a part of) will find a great summer read in The Wells Bequest. It’s very much like a very fast roller coaster ride experienced at a summertime theme park visit. There are unexpected plot twists and turns, there’s a rush of activity throughout the book (they are saving New York City after all), and a wind of information seems constantly about you, almost like another character in the book. Did it keep me guessing? You bet! Could two kids really time travel? Well, as Jaya asked, “’Would you really want to live in a world where only the possible is possible?’” I sure wouldn’t. Besides, you never know… one day it could happen!