When a surprise package with The Wells Bequest showed up on my doorstep, I was actually super excited. For once, a sequel to a book I'd actually read and enjoyed; the gods were obviously smiling on me. The Wells Bequest turned out to be just as much fun as The Grimm Legacy, full of nerdy references and jokes, surprise historical figures, and adventure.
Let me explain this series a little bit for those who are unfamiliar. The Wells Bequest is more of a companion novel than a direct sequel. Jaya, Leo's love interest, had a role in the first book, but otherwise they're fairly unconnected. The series centers on a library: The New-York Circulating Material Repository. This repository loans items, rather than books, ranging from an ordinary toaster to automatons built centuries ago. Even more special, the repository contains items from fiction, made real through some sort of complex paradox. Believe me, you don't want to get the librarians started on whether fiction is fictional. Obviously, I love this premise. Where The Grimm Legacy focused on objects from the Grimm fairytales, The Wells Bequest deals primarily with items from H.G. Wells' science fiction stories.
Everything kicks off when Leo, sitting and playing video games in his room, gets some surprise visitors: himself and a very pretty girl. Also, they're six inches tall and riding on a little box. They inform him that they're from the future, and Leo's future self commands him to read The Time Machine. He does so, which interests him in the idea of time travel. Since he has a science project to do for school, he considers doing it on time travel, but decides to do robots instead and his teacher sends him to the repository to research.
Leo had some self-esteem issues at the beginning of the book. The son of genius parents with genius siblings, he didn't get admitted to the good school he'd applied to. He doesn't test well, and feels inferior to his family. Leo himself is a genius too in his own way, brilliant at building and fixing mechanical gadgets. His adventure and his work at the repository helps him to appreciate his own skills.
Some of the time travel stuff gets a bit convoluted, but overall this was just such a fun read. I love all of the references to various classic stories, which are not limited to H. G. Wells. If you're a fan of nerdy references of the literary or historical variety, then you'll want to check this out. For example, both Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla make appearances in The Wells Bequest. Another big perk of the series is how diverse it is, with characters from various countries and ethnic backgrounds.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The main weakness I found in the book was that some of the dialogue did feel a bit forced. Leo and Jaya know so much and are incredibly well-read. However, occasionally one of them would ask an incredibly simple question. It just felt like sometimes the characters were given an unlikely knowledge gap, so that they needed something explained to them, thus imparting the audience with that information. There are better ways to get that done.
The Final Verdict:
Polly Shulman's The Wells Bequest is a fantastic sequel to The Grimm Legacy. This series will have a lot of appeal to middle graders, since it's full of humor, adventure and a bit of magic. Parents will love the amount of educational information snuck into the book. The series reads a bit like a middle grade version of the Thursday Next series.