March 19, 2012
The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
Janie Scott is busy practicing her Katherine Hepburn walk when she notices a black car following her down the street. Even in Hollywood, its obvious when a car moves at a snail’s pace to keep an eye on a casually strolling girl.
As upset as her parents are, Janie is shocked that they are more angry than surprised. In fact, they seem to know exactly who it was that was following her — The American Government.
Its the 1950s and this is the beginning of the Cold War. Janie’s parents have managed to get the whole family on “The List” and must now flee to England.
Hollywood made have been strange, but at least Janie knew what was what. Here she has to study maths and Latin and she’s pretty much completely lost.
Before long she makes friends with Benjamin, a cute, brassy chess player who has no qualms about telling the teachers and staff that their bomb drills are absolutely pointless. The next thing Janie knows, she and Ben are hiding in his cellar, listening to a group of thugs ransack his father’s apothecary shop and trying to figure out where to hide a mystery book of spells.
I don’t want to say a lot more about this because I don’t want to completely spoil the entire plot. Once it gets rolling, this story is full of action and intrigue and a bit of romance too. Still, it is perfectly suitable for its middle grade audience — this is light 1950’s on-screen romance.
It takes a while before the fantasy element comes into play but I think Harry Potter pretty well showed us all that readers can move from dozens of pages of straight fiction into a marvelous fantasy world if you just give them a fantastic train to get them from one place to another.
Meloy doesn’t give us a train, she gives us wings.
Young readers won’t have a clue who Katherine Hepburn was, but there are enough references to Nazi’s and World War II to anchor the book in history with which they will have at least a passing familiarity.
This book is complex enough to appeal to advanced middle graders readers who may not be ready for older teen or adult content. And just in case some visual will help, see the trailer below.