Meggy Swann is appalled by the bustle and filth of Elizabethan London when her father, an alchemist who doesn’t set much store by truth or integrity, summons her to the city to work as his apprentice. Meggy has been used to living a secluded life in a country village with only her grandmother and her goose Louise as friends. With her crippled legs, Meggy has endured taunts and threats, but her father’s utter contempt for her surpasses all the difficult experiences of her past.
Guarded, skeptical and tentative, Meggy surprises herself by making several friends in her new London neighborhood. As her father works toward his goal—discovering the secret to transforming ordinary metals into gold and giving humans immortality—she works tirelessly as his apprentice despite her weak legs and walking canes. She considers him a harmless if devoted alchemist until she discovers his dark secret, a secret she is determined to make right in her own unorthodox way.
Newbery winner Karen Cushman shows the realities of day-to-day life through believable and endearing characters whose lives are representative of their time period. In Alchemy and Meggy Swann, Cushman provides virtually no backstory for Meggy and no indications of her future, choosing instead to focus only on her first few weeks in London. Using the language of Elizabethan London, she brings the story vividly to life for young readers and provides a fascinating look at life in the 16th century.
Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Fall
Thirteen-year-old Meggy, who walks with the help of sticks, moves to London. Her alchemist father rejects then ignores her, leaving Meggy to fend for herself. Cushman creates a prickly, resourceful, and ultimately triumphant young woman. She incorporates specific details of daily life in Elizabethan England unobtrusively into the story; little funny touches help balance out the grimly realistic ones. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2010 #3
Meggy walks with the help of sticks and waddles much like her beloved pet goose, and in Elizabethan times, being disabled means being rejected and tormented. Thirteen years old, Meggy has learned to be "friendly as a bag of weasels," and is armed with a tremendous vocabulary of insults learned from her inn-keeping mother. These qualities and Meggy's general stubbornness are useful when she moves to London and her newly met alchemist father (who is expecting a boy to assist him in his "laboratorium") rejects and then ignores her, leaving her to fend for herself. Fortunately, Meggy makes friends with the cooper and his son next door and with Roger, a young actor who previously worked for her father. Meggy learns her way around London and gets physically stronger, but when she realizes that some of her father's money comes from supplying poisons to would-be murderers, she knows she must act. Cushman incorporates the specific details of daily life unobtrusively into the story, giving young readers a look into a very different world. In Meggy, she creates a prickly, resourceful, and ultimately triumphant young woman, and the little funny touches help balance out the grimly realistic ones. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2010 March #2
Queen Elizabeth I is on the throne. London is a sprawling, chaotic city that teems with all manner of humanity. Meggy has come to London ostensibly to serve her alchemist father, a man she has never met. When he rejects her because she is not male and because she is unable to walk normally, she needs all her pluck and determination to rise above her plight. Her loneliness and hunger are assuaged by Roger, an apprentice actor, and his troop of players, as well as a printer and a cooper who become her friends. She works tirelessly to gain her father's respect, but she finds her own self-respect instead. Meggy is a heroine in mind and deed. Cushman has the uncanny ability to take a time and place so remote and make it live. Readers can hear and see and smell it all as if they are right beside Meggy. She employs the syntax and vocabulary of the period so easily that it is understood as if it's the most contemporary modern slang. A gem. (author's note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2010 October
It is 1573, and when 13-year-old Meggy?s grandmother dies, her ill-tempered mother sends her from their small village to London to live with the father who abandoned her before she was born. Meggy was born with a hip deformity and uses sticks to walk, so she has often found herself the target of taunts and people?s fears of the ?devil?s mark.? She considers herself friendless, except for her pet goose. In London, she works hard to make herself useful to her indifferent father, an alchemist, in his ?laboratorium,? acquires her first human friends, and even foils a murder plot against a baron. The author has again brought the Middle Ages vividly to life, and readers will cheer prickly Meggy on as she overcomes adversity. An author?s note gives historical context, and a bibliography offers print and web sources for further discovery. This is first-rate historical fiction for middle-graders. Highly Recommended. Laurie Slagenwhite Walters, Youth Services Librarian, Baldwin Public Library, Birmingham, Michigan ¬ 2010 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 March #5
Cushman's (Catherine, Called Birdy) newest novel has all the elements that have made her earlier books so beloved. With flawless historical prose, Cushman introduces Meggy Swann, a feisty, sharp-tongued girl just arrived in gritty Elizabethan London, who has had more than her share of hard knocks. Unwanted by both her parents, she describes herself as "the ugglesome crookleg, the four-featured cripple, the fearful, misshapen creature," dependent on two "sticks" to hobble about. When Meggy is sent to live with her father, he is horrified to have to house and care for her--he wanted a son and an assistant. Meggy is equally unhappy until she tries her hand at her father's work: alchemy. While Cushman's story revolves around the potential magic and disappointing fraud of alchemy (and Meggy's father) as well as a murder plot, at its heart are relationships. Meggy must learn to open up to others to turn her life from loneliness and anger toward friendship and even joy. There is no unequivocally happy ending for Meggy, but a better life awaits her, and readers will gladly accompany her on the journey. Ages 10-14. (Apr.)[Page 59]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
Gr 5-8--Cushman adds another intrepid, resourceful, courageous girl to her repertoire in this tale set in 16th-century London. Meggy Swann, deformed since birth, walks with a halting gait using two sticks. Many believe she is cursed by the devil. The 13-year-old has lived in a small village over an alehouse run by her mother and has only ever felt love from her deceased grandmother. Now she has been sent for by her father in London. The astounding sights, sounds, and smells of the city accost her, and readers see and hear them all through Cushman's deft descriptive and cinematic prose. When her father finally sees her, he is disappointed to discover that she is just a disabled girl. Roger Oldham, her alchemist father's apprentice, is leaving to become a player and she is to take his place. Meggy meets a varied cast of characters, and Roger remains her good friend despite her ill-tempered treatment of him at times. Her father, whom she nicknames Master Peevish, is single-minded in his focus, oblivious to all else. In order to do his life's work, he needs money and Meggy overhears him plotting what she believes is a murder to obtain it. Fearing his head might wind up on a pole on London Bridge, she is determined to stop him. Her courage and confidence grow with each obstacle overcome. Cushman fans who loved Catherine, Called Birdy (1994) and The Midwife's Apprentice (1995, both Clarion) will not be disappointed.--Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ[Page 152]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.