Monday, March 5, 2012

The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy- Review

From Goodreads:
It’s 1952 and the Scott family has just moved from Los Angeles to London. Here, fourteen-year-old Janie meets a mysterious apothecary and his son, Benjamin Burrows—a fascinating boy who’s not afraid to stand up to authority and dreams of becoming a spy.

When Benjamin’s father is kidnapped, Janie and Benjamin must uncover the secrets of the apothecary’s sacred book, the Pharmacopoeia, in order to find him, all while keeping it out of the hands of their enemies—Russian spies in possession of nuclear weapons. Discovering and testing potions they never believed could exist, Janie and Benjamin embark on a dangerous race to save the apothecary and prevent impending disaster.

I'm telling you, my BEA shelf might be getting less crowded but it's still full of all sorts of fantastic gems.  The Apothecary was one of those books I didn't even have to read the blurb for when I grabbed it at the BEA.  That beautiful cover sold me on the spot.  To my intense delight the art continues on to the inside, although my copy is missing a lot of it because it was so advanced ,as if I need more excuses than that to buy a finished copy.

The Apothecary is not just another pretty face though, the story inside is very much worthy of all the delicious art.  A magical tale, tied in with the Cold War, the story was one of those unique birds that is both fresh and exciting.  I'm not sure the complications of the Cold War would be something I would ever consider putting into a children's book, and yet it makes a fascinating twist to Janie and Benjamin's world.  Even more impressive is how Meloy manages to explain the basic elements of a complicated time period in a straightforward, no nonsense and easy to understand way.  My high school history teacher could have done with a sit down with her.

Great concept and interesting time choice aside though, it's the characters who steal the show.  Janie and Benjamin are both completely lovable and relatable.  Janie's attempts to be cavalier and assured like Katharine  Hepburn and her admiration of Benjamin for standing up to the lunch matron during the bomb drills,

"It's idiotic, I won't do it... we both know that these desks would have done nothing against those bombs...But this isn't even a V-2 we're talking about, This is an atom bomb.  When it comes, not even the basement shelters will save us.  We'll all be incinerated, the whole city."

not to mention her complete embarrassment during the smell of truth incident,

"All right," he said. "So who do you fancy?"
I hesitated. "Fancy means like, right?" I asked, stalling... "You," I said helplessly.
"Me?" Benjamin flushed crimson...
"Oh, that's embarrassing," I said. "I hate this.  Quick, before it wears off, who do you fancy?"...
"Aargh," he said " I hate this, too!  All right! I like Sarah Pennington!"
I was too shocked, briefly, to be mortified that it wasn't me.  "Sarah Pennington?" I said. "She's awful! She's mean and pretentious!"
"I know."  He seemed genuinely sorry about it. " But she's also beautiful. I don't want to like her. But I can't help it!  She sits in front of me in maths, and the curve of her neck, under that braid, drives me completely mad."
"Stop!" I said. " Enough! It works."

make her one of the more lovable girl characters in the sea of strong boy characters in Middle School reads.

Benjamin on the other hand is feisty, unrepentant and yet the last to believe any of the Apothecary nonsense.  Between him, Janie and later character Pip, there is no end of trouble they can all cause and get into.   Honestly, I was more than a little bit jealous at the end.  I wanted to hang out with these kids.  Thank goodness there's more Janie and Benjamin goodness in the works!

A fantastic adventure with great characters this would be on the top of my list of new Middle school books for anyone looking for something to sink their teeth into.

Amusing side note? The author is the sister of the Decemberists Colin Meloy, who wrote Wildwood, another beautifully illustrated Middle Grade novel sitting in my TBR stacks for awhile now (the hubby read it awhile back and loved it).  Who knew my book shelves were so full of family members?

The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy
Published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, October 2011
Buy The Apothecary on Amazon


  1. Oh! I really loved this book too. So glad to hear there are more books coming.

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