Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

Book Jacket

It's 1952 and the Scott family has moved unexpectedly from Los Angeles to London.  Janie Scott feels uncertain in her strange new school until she meets Benjamin Burrows, the local apothecary's curiously defiant son, who dreams of becoming a spy.

Benjamin's father promises Janie a cure for homesickness, and it seems to work.  But Mr. Burrows is no ordinary apothecary, and he holds dangerous secrets.  When he disappears, Benjamin and Janie find themselves entrusted with his sacred book, the Pharmacopoeia.  And Russian spies are intent on getting their hands on it.

Discovering transformative elixirs they never imagined could exist, Janie and Benjamin embark on a dangerous quest to save the apothecary and prevent an impending nuclear disaster.

From award-winning author Maile Meloy comes a novel that sparkles with life and magic.  Breathtakingly illustrated by Ian Schoenherr, this is a story that will delight kids and return not-so-young readers to a world in which the extraordinary is possible.


This book was so enjoyable.  I love stories in which Americans move to awesome foreign countries (in this case, England), because I get to live vicariously through them.  I love stories that introduce me to new time periods.  The Apothecary is set seven years after WWII ended, and I was shocked to see how huge an impact the war had on England after all that time. And I absolutely adore books with individually distinct but all awesome characters discovering a wonderful fantastical world in the midst of raging adventure and daring exploits.

Turns out apothecaries are basically wizards.  With the right combination of materials, kids turn into birds, become invisible, or create a truth serum.  Meloy somehow managed to make this seem unbelievable, and then completely customary.  I like when magical/fantastical skills are equated with power--this person has extra power, so what are they going to do with it?  Like most great books, The Apothecary is full of people who have power and want to control the nations as well as our heroes who have power and want to use it for peace.

Janie is a wonderful main character, and I especially loved her parents.  Benjamin is adorable, and I really loved their slow-paced romance.  But I've got to admit, my favorite characters were no-nonsense Jin Lo and trickster Pip.  They stole every page they were on.

This book has it all: adventure, romance, history, life-or-death stakes.  It's fantastic.

Five out of five melted gold earrings.

Release Date: October 2011
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL MEL

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