The Apothecary

by Maile Meloy
ages: 11+
First sentence: “I was seven and living in Los Angeles when Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, and first vivid memories are of how happy and excited everyone was.”
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Janie doesn’t want to move to London.

She has her perfect (well, of a sort) life in California. Her parents are in the movie business. She adores Katherine Hepburn, she wants to be friends with the popular kids. But that all goes up in flames when her parents get on McCarthy’s Red List and are called into Congress to testify. They decide they can’t sell out their friends, so they uproot and move to London instead.

Thrown from sunny California to dreary February, post-war London, Janie is feeling hopeless. That is, until she meets Benjamin. Cute boy is a start. And then, the two of them are witnesses when Benjamin’s father goes missing, leaving a mysterious book behind. It turns out that Ben’s father is an apothecary: not just the dispense your pills sort, but a magical/science sort that can do amazing and wonderful things.

Ben and Janie, of course, need to go rescue him. (This is a middle grade novel, after all.) Which means, they need to figure out the Greek (and Latin) of the book, put together the spells (which include turning into a bird and becoming invisible), and unravel the plot Ben’s father was mixed up in, in order to do so.

On the one hand, this was a beautifully illustrated, gorgeously written book. Meloy has a gift with language, and it was a pleasure to read. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a book that grownups think kids should like. A had some major issues with it, not the least being she didn’t get the historical setting at all. But a couple other kids at the book group didn’t mind it so much, and actually enjoyed the adventure (but not so much the slight romance).

So, I think we’ll just be on the fence with this one.

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