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The Unusual Suspects (Sisters Grimm #2), by Michael Buckley

Updated on March 16, 2016

As "The Unusual Suspects" opens, Sabrina and Daphne have been living with Granny Relda for three weeks, and through it all Granny Relda has been trying to get them to go to school. The girls have avoided school by strategically timed stomach viruses and other emergencies. They don't want to lose any time that they could be using to track down their missing parents. Then Ms. Smirt arrives and threatens to take them away from Granny Relda if they don't start school that day.

So the girls find themselves students at Ferryport Landing Elementary. We follow Sabrina during her first day of sixth grade, from her introduction to Casper Sheepshank, the overly obliging guidance counselor to the classroom of Mr. Grumpner, the excessively cranky teacher she is assigned and back to Sheepshank's office at the end of the day. Along the way, she has a run-in with a bully named Natalie and makes a new friend named Bella. Nearly all of the sixth-grade students except for Natalie, Bella, a boy named Toby, and Sabrina herself are dragging in their tracks.

Sabrina defends herself from Natalie and ends up spending several hours cooling her heels in the guidance counselor's office until the very end of the school day. When she returns to her locker for her things, she sees that the room is filled with spiderwebs. Upon examination, she finds more than just spiderwebs. She also finds Mr. Grumpner's dead body suspended in the webs and a red handprint on the blackboard.

After everything that Sabrina has been through, she expected that it is likely that Daphne had a miserable day as well. So, when Daphne joins her after school, Sabrina is stunned to find that Daphne had the best day ever. Part of it may be that Daphne's teacher is Snow White.

Despite the monsters and other fairy-tale things, I think I want to move to Ferryport Landing. They have no property taxes there. We find out in "The Unusual Suspects" that the ball in "The Fairy-Tale Detectives" is the only source of income for the town. This is a pretty sweet deal for the humans who live there, since the Everafters are the only ones invited to the ball and therefore they are the only ones who foot the bill for the school and the police and Public Works. The Grimms make this discovery when Charming arrives and tells them that the police force is down to just Hamstead. Since they have no money to employ police officers, Charming deputizes the Grimms.

As time goes by, the plot, both of this novel, and of the "Sisters Grimm" series as a whole, gets more complicated. For example, when Sabrina returns to school the next day, she finds that the Three have covered the whole town in forgetful dust, so that they won't remember that Mr. Grumpner ever existed, and the kids think that their teacher for the whole year has been Mrs. Heart -- the Queen of Hearts from "Alice in Wonderland." Since the Grimms' house is protected by spells, this means that Relda, Sabrina, Daphne, Mr. Canis, and Puck are the only people (to their knowledge) who remember that Grumpner was murdered.

Sabrina and Daphne are told that the only Everafters who work at the school are Ms. White and Mr. Hamelin, the Principal. Mr. Hamelin is the Pied Piper, who got the job for his, ahem, uncanny ability to lead children. I guess the people of Ferryport Landing don't have much concern that Hamelin will take their children out of town, since Hamelin isn't going anywhere, thanks to the barrier keeping the Everafters in town. Sabrina also makes a discovery her first day of school when she meets a boy named Wendell Hamelin -- Everafters can have children.

Once again, Buckley does a great job pushing the plot of this book forward while laying the groundwork for the rest of the series. He does an interesting job reinterpreting Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl," and I hope that no child ever writes a paper on "The Little Match Girl" based on this version.

"The Sisters Grimm" will end up going some very dark places. The very ending of "The Unusual Suspects" gives the first glimmer of these dark places that the series will go.

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