The Wells Bequest
by Polly Shulman
Paperback edition published by Puffin Books in July 2014.
Originally published by Nancy Paulsen Books in June 2013.
One of the first books I ever reviewed on Watch This Space (back when it still had an exclamation point at the end of it!) was Polly Shulman’s middle-grade urban fantasy book The Grimm Legacy. Set in New York City, The Grimm Legacy is about a young girl, Elizabeth, who starts working at the New-York Circulating Materials Repository, a library that loans out objects instead of books. One of the Repository’s special collections contains magical items from fairy tales. When some of those magical items start to go missing and it’s up to Elizabeth and her friends to save the day.
In The Wells Bequest, a companion novel to Grimm, Shulman returns to the Repository, but this time we follow a new character and learn about a different special collection: The Wells Bequest, which contains items straight out of science fiction novels (time machines, death rays, shrink rays, etc).
Our new protagonist Leo feels overshadowed by his family’s successes. His brother and sister are both prodigies, while the only school he could get into was “Poly Tech for Dummies”. One day, while playing video games, a miniature version of himself appears in his bedroom. He’s riding a time machine, and even more surprising to Leo, he’s with a girl.
Following the advice of his miniature, future self, Leo begins studying at the Repository and meets the girl he was with on the time machine, Jaya Rao. Leo harbors a serious crush on Jaya, but he’s not the only one. A British boy named Simon also wants Jaya for himself, and is willing to do whatever he can to make her like him.
Okay, that’s my non-spoilery summary. It’s very hard not to give things away from this book because it’s really rather simple. The Wells Bequest is not as good as its predecessor. In fact, it was actually a bit disappointing. One of the things I liked about Grimm was the mystery of who is stealing the objects. In Wells, Shulman announces the antagonist in the beginning, so from there it’s just a waiting game. I didn’t feel the antagonist’s motives were such that he would actually go through with his threats. There was just a really weird disconnect as I didn’t think the antagonist was evil, though he certainly came across that way in the end.
This book will definitely appeal to younger readers. I think boys and girls alike would find something to appreciate, and I will say that the main characters, Leo and Jaya, are both very well-rounded and identifiable. They have their flaws – Leo worries a lot, Jaya has no patience—but it was fun to see them interact with each other. They have a flirty relationship, but they are still first and foremost friends.
You don’t need to read The Grimm Legacy to read The Wells Bequest. They’re both standalone books, though a couple of familiar characters make appearances in Wells again, along with passing mentions of the events of the first book.
In general, The Wells Bequest has some good points, but in the end this book just wasn’t my cup o’ tea.
More about the book:
Leo never imagined that time travel might really be possible, or that the objects in H. G. Wells’ science fiction novels might actually exist. And when a miniature time machine appears in Leo’s bedroom, he has no idea who the tiny, beautiful girl is riding it. But in the few moments before it vanishes, returning to wherever—and whenever—it came from, he recognizes the other tiny rider: himself!
His search for the time machine, the girl, and his fate leads him to the New-York Circulating Material Repository, a magical library that lends out objects instead of books. Hidden away in the Repository basement is the Wells Bequest, a secret collection of powerful objects straight out of classic science fiction novels: robots, rockets, submarines, a shrink ray—and one very famous time machine. And when Leo’s adventure of a lifetime suddenly turns deadly, he must attempt a journey to 1895 to warn real-life scientist Nikola Tesla about a dangerous invention. A race for time is on!
In this grand time-travel adventure full of paradoxes and humor, Polly Shulman gives readers a taste of how fascinating science can be, deftly blending classic science fiction elements with the contemporary fantasy world readers fell in love with in The Grimm Legacy.
Read a sample from The Wells Bequest here.