Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy

Though I usually focus on MG, I do tout the occasional YA title. I suppose this book straddles the line. Though the cover images may suggest MG, the book felt more YA to me as I read.
 
It's 1952, and fourteen-year-old Janie's parents are Hollywood screen writers accused of being sympathetic to communism. That's why the family moves suddenly to England, where the parents get jobs writing for the BBC, and Janie must, of course, go to a new school. As in many places at this time, when the signal is given, the kids and teachers must stop whatever they're doing and "duck and cover" -- hide under the desks and tables with their faces buried in their arms. The first time this happens, Janie can't help but notice Benjamin Burrows, the boy who will not duck and cover. It's stupid, he scoffs. Hiding under a piece of furniture will not save you from an atomic bomb.
 
Benjamin, the son of the local apothecary (pharmacist), wants to be a spy, even though his father wants him to go into the family business. Benjamin can't see pursuing a life of handing out headache pills and croup remedies. But as he and Janie do their own spying, they quickly find out that the apothecary is more than he appears, real spies are everywhere, amazing scientific discoveries are about to be lauched, and that entire nations and even magic are involved in the effort to keep the bomb out of Russian hands. It was very interesting to read this book almost immediately after I read the Newbery Honor book Bomb. I really feel as if I understand the background of the Cold War much better now, having read both.
 
This book is filled with likable characters, suspense, an intriguing blend of reality and magic, and believable, inventive ways of "getting the parents out of the way." There is a lot here; too much to list, expertly woven into a whole.
 
Recommended for those who like a "big, magical adventure" and a not-overdone historical period. In fact -- why not recommend they read Bomb, too? Each book sheds light on the other, and together, they illuminate an important time in 20th-century history.

13 comments:

Faith E. Hough said...

Wow, that's not at all what I was expecting from the book based on its cover! It definitely sounds more exciting this way than what was in my head.

Leandra Wallace said...

I too was surprised when I picked it up at the bookstore and read the jacket. But as I've got some cover lust going on w/the cover, I plan on buying it at some point. I really like birds! K, that sounded a little cuckoo... =)

Barbara Watson said...

LOVED this one! And you're exactly right...it does straddle the line of MG and YA.

Marcia said...

Faith -- I hadn't thought about that aspect of the cover, but I think you're right.

Leandra -- Have you read THE AVIARY? I recommend it!

Barbara -- Books that straddle that line, and don't get rejected for doing so, fascinate me.

Mirka Breen said...

I loved BOMB. Written like a spoof thriller but for the young MG crowd, and chuck full of real information.
This one, THE APOTECARY, seems like loads of fun.

Anna Staniszewski said...

I've been meaning to read this one. Thanks for the review. How interesting that the cover doesn't really reflect the story.

Vijaya said...

Excellent review! More to add to my pile ... Oy!

Marcia said...

Mirka -- Agreed on both books!

Anna -- Actually, the kids on the rooftop and the birds are in the story.

Vijaya -- Yay for a tall pile!

Akoss said...

Oh this was one of my most favorite books last year. And you are absolutely right: it straddles MG and YA. :)

Christina Farley said...

Oh this sounds like my kind of book. Anything magical and full of history are things I love.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm with Faith. I would not have guest a similar story based on the cover. I'll have to tell my sons about it. While the cover might turn them off, the premise is bound to interest one of them.

Scribbles From Jenn said...

My daughter and I met Maile Meloy at a Mother/Daughter book tea. Ms. Meloy was quite nice and hearing about the book journey made reading it even more exciting. The cover may not suit the book, but it's a good read. My girl loved it. I'm going to add Bomb to my TBR pile

Marcia said...

Akoss -- 2012 was such a strong year!

Christina -- Yes, and unusual historical periods.

Stina -- I think you're right; the cover isn't really a draw for boys. But I'll bet you're right that they'd like the story.

Jenn -- How cool that you got to meet her. I agree that attending a personal appearance adds to your excitement to read the author's book.