Following the paths of Neil Gaiman, Julia Alvarez and Carl Hiaasen, bestselling author Meloy (Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, 2009, etc.) takes a successful plunge into middle-grade fiction.
Before the House Committee on Un-American Activities can interrogate Janie Scott's Hollywood writing-team parents for being possible Communists, they move to London. "I was no witty, patient, adaptable Jane Austen," the 14-year-old admits as she recalls helping to save the world in 1952. While palling around with Benjamin Burrows, who'd rather be a spy than follow in the apothecary family tradition, Janie becomes entangled with Cold War espionage after Benjamin's father mysteriously disappears, leaving behind a secret 700-year-old book of magic elixirs. As the teens, joined by pickpocket Pip (seemingly plucked out of Great Expectations), search for the apothecary (truly an alchemist), they must also outrun their dreamy Latin teacher (who could be a double agent), rescue a kidnapped Chinese chemist and work with other scientists from around the world to thwart the Soviet's detonation of an atomic bomb 20 times more powerful than Hiroshima's, all while testing out some of the elixirs along the way.
Although Janie's narration loses some of its charm and humor as the adventure escalates, its blend of history, culture and the anxiety of the time with magical "science" will keep readers just as spellbound as the characters. (art not seen) (Historical fantasy. 10-14)Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
When the House Committee on Un-American Activities targets Janie's television writer parents, the 14-year-old and her family flee from Los Angeles to London. There, Janie meets Benjamin, a "defiant" classmate, and his father, the neighborhood apothecary, who is involved in much more than hot water bottles and aspirin. In fact, he is part of a long line of apothecaries who have discovered miraculous secrets--truth serums, invisibility, amazing physical transformations--and he is now working with scientists on an incredible plan that has global ramifications with regard to the escalating tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States. Some readers may need to brush up on cold war history to fully appreciate the stakes, but even those with a vague understanding of the times will be quickly swept up in this thoroughly enjoyable adventure, filled with magic, humor, memorable characters, and just a bit of sweet romance. With evocative, confident prose and equally atmospheric spot art from Schoenherr, adult author Meloy's first book for young readers is an auspicious one. Readers will hope they haven't heard the last from Janie and Benjamin. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)[Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC
Gr 5-8--A fairly interesting mystery set mostly in 1952 London, The Apothecary offers a little of everything; magic, romance, mystery, and historical fiction. When friends of Janie's parents are blacklisted in Hollywood (they are a television writing team), the Scotts move to London. Around the corner from their flat is a mysterious shop with an enigmatic apothecary. The man's son is Janie's new friend at school. When she and Benjamin, who aspires to be a spy, happen to witness a handoff involving a Russian attaché in the park, the teens get more than they bargained for. As it turns out, not only is Benjamin's father involved, but the Latin instructor at their school is also a part of this web of espionage. The two rush to save the apothecary only to find out that he is attempting to stop a nuclear test in Soviet territory. Everyone goes along to help stop the explosion. However, the magic occasionally feels like a contrivance to move the plot forward instead of an organic part of the fantasy. The ending is sort of a free-for-all, and the created world doesn't really keep to the rules set up at the beginning. Nonetheless, this is a highly readable adventure/mystery, and it is greatly enhanced by Schoenherr's graceful and evocative illustrations.--Robin Henry, Wakeland High School, Frisco, TX[Page 125]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.