The Sisters Grimm
by Menna van Praag
- Genre: Urban Fantasy
- Publisher: Harper Voyager
- Length: 448 pages
- Available: March 31, 2020
About the Author: Menna van Praag was born in Cambridge, England and studied Modern History at Oxford University. Her first novella—an autobiographical tale about a waitress who aspires to be a writer—Men, Money & Chocolate has been translated into 26 languages. Her magical realism novels are all set among the colleges, cafes, and bookshops of Cambridge.
Summary: Goldie, Scarlet, Liyana, and Bea may not be traditional sisters, but the supernatural bond they shared as children has transcended both time and space, keeping them together in spirit long after the memories of Everwhere—the dreamworld in which they met—had faded. Now, as they approach their eighteenth birthdays, their lives are starting to align once again, awakening the magical powers of Fire, Water, Earth, and Air that have laid dormant within them for all those years. With their demonic father and his army of star-soldiers ready to hunt down any Grimm sister that refuses to join them, they will have to find each other through the trials of life and combine their powers if they hope to survive.
In a time when those of the dystopian and soft-fantasy persuasion still reign unchallenged over the world of Young Adult fiction, Menna van Praag’s The Sisters Grimm serves as a breath of fresh air with its modern setting and urban backdrop. While the fantastical heart of this story stems from Everwhere—the sister’s shared dreamworld—the main setting of Cambridge effectively serves as a kind of permeable bordertown between our world and the ethereal realm, allowing hints of magic to slip quietly through the seams. This theme works well to mirror the characters themselves, all of whom have worldly problems hanging over their heads, but are, even despite the hardships of their own realities, still able to feel the presence of their sisters, as well as the pull of Everwhere.
Magic itself plays a relatively small role throughout the novel, trickling its way into the women’s lives as they get closer to the moment when they must choose between their sisters or their shared, demonesque father. While this is a shift for fantasy, this subtle approach only strengthens the novel, making it less about sword and sorcery and more about the harsh realities that come with being a modern woman. Through this lens, the characters’ realization of their own magical ability, as well as its strengthening over time, becomes symbolic of their personal struggles to find agency in a patriarchal society. With each of them on the cusp of adulthood, this search for self and sisterhood culminates with a literal battle for independence, one where the sisters must defend their lives against the men who have infiltrated it, or fall victim to the evil, absent father figure who has betrayed and murdered generations of Grimm women.
Menna van Praag’s coming of age story about sisterhood and magic realms may not sit comfortably on the shelf next to your more typical YA fantasies, but that is exactly what makes The Sisters Grimm work as well as it does. While it may not break the mold, it certainly offers a fresh perspective on a familiar concept, taking predictable, worn out themes and turning them into discerning critiques of the societal expectations laid on the backs of young women.