It would be a gross understatement to classify In a Glass Grimmly merely as a “Halloween book.” True, pools of vomit, blood, and gastrointestinal goodies feature heavily in this tale, as do psychopathic mermaids and disturbing villains who truss their previous victims (bagged, of course) from rafters made of human bones. But, as author Adam Gidwitz promises and I can attest, Glass is also a beautiful story, in the way that “gray and golden ashes in a fireplace” are beautiful. Or “the deep russet of a drying stain of blood.”
Confused? Well, as long as you’re not con-fused, you’re okay. We’ll get to that later. Maybe.
Once upon a time, in a kingdom in Germany, a girl named Jill and a boy named Jack and a talking frog called Frog met a creepy old lady with a knack for appearing and disappearing out of thin air. In exchange for two life-changing wishes, she sends them on a perilous quest for the legendary Glass. Jack, who is known around the village as Marie’s lamb (for the record, Marie is a boy; some German boys have two names, one of them being Marie), craves the approval of his peers so badly that he trades his cow for a bean just because Marie told him to. Jill longs to be beautiful like her mother the queen (who, as our trusty narrator assures us, is completely wonderful) so her mother will finally notice her. (The frog would like Jack and Jill to listen to him and get as far away from the creepy old lady as possible, but his wishes aren’t pertinent to this story.) Oh, and the cost of failure is death. So it’s up the magic beanstalk for Jack and Jill and their amphibious friend to find the Glass.
Along the way, they throw temper tantrums at each other, jump to outrageous conclusions, and travel far and wide. They also thwart foes much stronger and meaner than they, and prove to be surprisingly clever and loyal. Unfortunately, Jack and Jill cannot see how awesome they are, just as they are. When you have been con-fused your entire life, it is not easy to disentangle your identity from invalid sources of significance. And it’s not just them. Lots of people live their lives all con-fused–even remorseless, conniving, deal-brokering murderers–and that could well be their downfall.
Having read Gidwitz’s first book, I am delighted to say I enjoyed Glass even more than A Tale Dark and Grimm. Like before, Gidwitz delivers a darkly humorous, guts ‘n gore, twisty and twisted adventure, but this time with a deftly realized moral (what else did you expect from fairy tales?) on peer pressure and identity crises. Better yet, it’s not the usual spiel about solving the problem by removing the problem, because real life’s not like that, so why should fiction be? Even after Jack and Jill find the Glass and return home, their situations remain unchanged. Jack is still not accepted by any of the boys and Jill’s mother is as self-absorbed as ever, but that’s okay because they’ve changed. They’ve broken free from the invisible fetters that con-fuse them. They’ve looked in the Mirror and learned to see not a poor, dim reflection, but face to face–and it saved their lives.