The Sisters Grimm: The Unusual Suspects by Michael Buckley

As I mentioned earlier, I was excited about the Sisters Grim series by Michael Buckley. Having enjoyed the first book, I quickly picked up the next, The Unusual Suspects, and began reading.

It didn’t disappoint. The Unusual Suspects continues the madcap fun and adventure while ratcheting up the suspense and bringing in a darker element to the characters and stories. Here is a basic plot description:

In Book Two, the Sisters Grimm start school at Ferryport Landing Elementary. Daphne’s lucky enough to get Snow White for a teacher—she loves little people—but poor Sabrina’s stuck with Mr. Grumpner and a class of mildly psychotic sixth graders. When Mr. Grumpner is murdered in a particularly unusual way, it is up to the Grimms to find the Everafter who did it. If only Sabrina can get over her distrust of all Everafters. But how can she trust folks who just might be responsible for the disappearance of her parents?

This summary gets at the developments in the story. As always seems to be the case with characters who are experiencing puberty, while facing some pretty challenging circumstances at the same time, Sabrina begins to come off as an angry and rather unstable young girl. Hard to blame her seeing how she is trapped in a bizarre world, her parents have been kidnapped, and her teachers are dying around her. You can see how her emotions and loyalties are being pulled in a million different directions and it is driving her mad. Throw in the normal, but not always easy, challenges of growing up, and who wouldn’t be a little testy?

In a very interesting marketing strategy Buckley has actually discussed the book, and his approach in writing it, on Amazon in the guise of reader comments:

But I’m most proud of Sabrina’s development in this book. She is a complicated character working on issues that don’t just fix themselves because the story has ended. I wanted to give her real problems and have her react to situations [sic] in ways that are genuine and logical, even if they do make her seem like a bratty little jerk at times. Some people are put-off by how headstrong Sabrina can be but I also think some people read too much Nancy Drew and don’t expect girls to have opinions, be tough, and make mistakes that have repercussions. Not to knock Nancy Drew – it’s a classic series, but I’m trying to write about a character that is both affecting and is affected by the world, not one that is sugary sweet and never-changing


I will admit that sometime these angry characters do get on my nerves a bit, but Sabrina is sufficiently humorous and true to life that it works. The interplay between Sabrina, Puck, and Daphne is quite often laugh out loud funny so the tension is regularly relieved.

The other issue, also raised by Buckley in the above comment, is the increasing tension between the Grimms and the Everafters. Buckley claims the “book’s themes focus on prejudice and bigotry” but this might be tad too serious. Nevertheless, there clearly is a growing sense that the Grimms and the Everafters animosity is going to come to a head; and not in a good way. The Grimms have a few friends among the town but they also have a number of enemies. The hard part for Sabrina is she doesn’t know who to trust. Obsessed as she is with finding her parents, and given her immaturity, she has a sort of recklessness about her; a sense that she is teetering on the edge. Obviously, this also builds tension and adds a darker side to the story. It isn’t dark in a “don’t let kids read this” kind of way, but just not quite as happy-go-lucky as the first book.

It is easy to see why The Unusual Suspects broke through and spent some time on the New York Times Bestseller list. It really flushes out the characters and the backstory building suspense as it goes. In the way that these type of series often do, it raises more questions that it gives answers; but it always keeps things interesting. As a result, it is the kind of book that you don’t want to put down. Luckily for me, I didn’t read it when it first came out because it ends with an ominous To Be Continued. Since The Problem Child had been released I could just start reading it as soon as I had finished the last book (once my wife had finished it, of course).

My wife tells me that The Problem Child ends in the same manner, so I guess I will just have to be patient and wait for Once Upon a Crime to come out this summer.

But those of you who haven’t yet experienced this enjoyable series have plenty of time to read the first three before the release of book four. Think of it this way. The Lemony Snicket series has come to and end. Harry Potter is down to one book (and a hefty tome most likely). So if you enjoy quality children’s fantasy, why not start reading another enjoyable series. I heartily recommend the Sisters Grimm.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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