Friday, 31 January 2014

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

It's been a long cold winter here in Canada and most people I know are starting to go a bit stir crazy.  I imagine that the kids are feeling the same.  If it's too cold to send them out, then I recommend sitting them down with a copy of Maile Meloy's The Apothecary.  They will quickly become lost in the world of Janie and Benjamin  and their magical potions. 

It's 1952 and Janie and her parents have quietly moved to England to escape the scrutiny of those suspecting them of being communist sympathisers  or some other foolishness of McCarthy and his cronies.  She wants nothing to do with moving, with England, with a damp house and a uniform for a new school.  Nothing about the move appeals to her until she meets fellow student Benjamin Burrows.  He is the son of the local apothecary and an aspiring spy.

Now throw in a suspected Russian spy, a mysterious book of potions and some seedy characters and your kids will forget about being stuck inside. 

Once your kids have finished this book, you'll want to read it yourself.  I found that the child characters were well developed and believable. The adult characters in the book seemed to fit two categories, those that were there because they had to (Janie had to have parents so that she could move to England) and those who were important to the story line and thus had more developed characters.  All in all, it was the children who carried the plot and made this story come alive for me.  It would be a suitable book to read aloud to your younger children who still enjoy being read to.

Scattered throughout are wonderful illustrations by Ian Schoenherr.   As well as adding to the story, they will help young readers make that transition from fully illustrated books to  the more traditional chapter book. 

It was interesting to note that several books about England at war time  rely on magic to help turn the course war and politics to Englands' advantage.  The first that came to mind was the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which was based on the books The Magic Bed Knob  and Bonfires and Broomsticks by author Mary Norton.  Great movie, I highly recommend watching that with your family.  The next that came to mind was Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark.  At the time it was published it was billed as the Harry Potter book for adults.  I felt that I failed on that aspect and that it would have been readable as a short story instead of the long drawn out tomb that it was. 

The Apprentices is the sequel to this novel. 

Visit Maile Meloy's site to learn more about this book as well as her adult novels.

Trailer for The Apothecary:

Thanks to G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for my review copy.

1 comment:

Fiber Babble said...

This looks like something I'd enjoy :-) Do you have an opinion about what age level this was written for? My granddaughter move to the other side of the country (with her family) at the end of the school year and she is NOT pleased. I'm thinking a book like this will tickle her sense of adventure or distract her from the upheaval.

Sneaky Oma...