The Apothecary by Maile Meloy (Text)
PB RRP $19.95
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie
The Apothecary is a novel for young adults with elements of fantasy, alchemy and adventure. The setting is the early 1950s in a London still recovering from the Second World War and the threat of nuclear weapons now looming. This fast paced and highly imaginative tale has the reader turning pages until the conclusion. Large black and white drawings at the start of each chapter add to the overall appeal of the book.
Janie is fourteen when her parents leave California, under suspicion of being communists. Janie starts her new school in London and quickly meets Benjamin, the son of an apothecary who has been kidnapped. Janie is drawn into a dangerous world where she is pursued by Russian agents anxious to steal an ancient book called the Pharmacopoeia. The kids decipher the Latin in the book and make elixirs to turn them into birds and make themselves invisible. This helps them to allude their trackers.
The Apothecary is also about first love and fitting in. The main character Janie is a brave, admirable heroine and the story exciting. However the events outlined in the story lack credibility in some ways. At the start of the book is a 'note to the reader' from the main character, now grown up. She mentions that she lost her memory and that although she has pieced it all together with the help of her diary, some of what happened seems unbelievable, even to her. Because it is written in first person, the fact that Janie's memory is unreliable could make the whole story less believable for the reader.
The Apothecary has an interesting setting (both time and place) and has likeable, courageous characters. It will appeal to young adults of around ten to fourteen years.