The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

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The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Mary Esther Judy
Reviewed by Mary Esther Judy
Summary: Janie Scott suddenly finds herself thrown into a world of secrets and spies and developing nuclear capability.... and the only thing that may save us all is a little dose of magic.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: July 2012
Publisher: Andersen Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781849395069

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Longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013

When 14-year-old Janie Scott moves to London from California, she finds it cold, dreary and endlessly dull. She doesn’t fit in at her new school, St. Bedens, and getting used to life in 1950’s London, a life so different to the one she left behind, seems impossible. Then she meets Benjamin Burrows, another misfit. Benjamin wants to be a spy, and at the height of the Cold War, opportunities for espionage abound. But when Benjamin’s father, the local (and mysterious) apothecary is kidnapped, Janie and Benjamin get pulled into a world they could only imagine. Entrusted with the apothecary’s book of ancient knowledge, they must use it to track down Benjamin’s father, all the while keeping it from the hands of Russian spies with nuclear weapons. It seems the only chance to save the world may actually be magic.

Meloy has given us a unique glimpse into a uniquely textured world. The era of the Cold War seldom features in children’s literature, and the times are described with an unerring accuracy from the views on either side of the Atlantic. Add to this the injection of the strange, impossible world of the apothecary and its accompanying alchemy and magic, what you have is a compelling, poignant novel of loyalty and responsibility coupled with a truly thought-provoking view of a little-discussed period of history… and written for children! Its magical content is blended into the story with such skill, that it actually belongs in this mundane world and is completely believable. Queries begin to emerge about the line between science and superstition/magic. There is a merging of the real and the illusory that is expressed with wonder.

The Apothecary is peppered throughout with stunning illustrations by Ian Schoenherr. These black and white renderings appear every few pages and exquisitely create a sense of mood, timing and place. Their inclusion was essential to the book, as it gives atmosphere and helps pull the reader along, creating a strong sense of being present to the story.

The pacing of this novel is a thing of beauty. No, it is not the fast-paced, roller-coaster ride of a story that we have become accustomed to in books of this type. It’s better. Meloy slows the pace at just the right moments to allow the reader to relax and absorb the action, its circumstances and possibilities before the next round starts. So, the timing of the plot is expertly handled with a lot of finesse. And the writing itself is simply beautiful; no airs or graces - just a clearly written text with very strong descriptive passages giving exactly the right amount of information without over-killing its content. With well-defined characters and circumstances in a tangible world, The Apothecary is a gripping joy to read.

If you enjoyed The Apothecary, and are interested in great reads where improbable things happen with alarming regularity, you'll also love When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Also, try Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson for even more incredible goings on!

We also have a review of Maile Meloy's Do Not Become Alarmed.

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Buy The Apothecary by Maile Meloy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Apothecary by Maile Meloy at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Apothecary by Maile Meloy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Apothecary by Maile Meloy at


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