Fun and entertaining Middle-grade novel

The Apothecary - Maile Meloy

‘The Apothecary' brings forth the inner child that lives inside every one of us. This book has the power to make your eyes light up with the impossible, even as your mind tries to defy you. There were elements of pure magic and of serious logic, and I don’t think a reader can help, but appreciate the mix.

This book is set in 1950’s London. A time when a young Queen Elizabeth sat on the throne. While in America, your neighbor was being spied on and labeled a ‘communist’ if he or she fell under the slightest suspicion. It was set in the time before the Cold War. And when countries fought to get the atomic bomb. Not to mention the spies around every corner.

There was something positively enchanting about this mix, and the characters who brought the story alive. I think it was the innocence of the characters that stood out, even while they were brave, curious and fascinating. Janie was a character who was taken from America to England when her parents fell under suspicion of being ‘communists’. She hated leaving everything she knew behind. What I loved was the fact that even though that had happened to her, there was none of the whiny teenager in her.

Although I don’t think she had time to be like that because she met Benjamin. I adored him. He was just so cute with the way he thought about people. He actually made the book fun for me, more than Janie did, and I liked her too. I think it was the way they worked together. In fact, the whole crazy cast of characters interacted well.

The magical elements added something to this story. I think it would have been just as great if it had only been a piece of historical fiction, but the way magic was added gave the book an almost realistic feeling about it – even though there was nothing remotely like that with some of the things they did. This novel held bits of all types of genre in it and it worked.

And the artwork at the beginning of each chapter. That was what I loved most about the book. The illustrations, drawn by Ian Schoenherr, just added that something extra and I looked forward to finishing each chapter, just so I could see what the next illustration would be. The pictures made this middle grade novel more flamboyant than it would have been without them.

Anyway, I would recommend this book to anyone who has a sense of fun, enjoys cloak and dagger and loves a little hint of magic.