Monday, 30 January 2012

Review: The Apothecary

Title: The Apothecary
Author: Maile Meloy
Illustrator: Ian Schoenherr
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: October 4th, 2011
Genre: Juvenile Fiction, Fantasy

The year is 1952 and Janie Scott has just moved from Los Angeles to London. Leaving sunny California for post-war Britain is difficult for Janie, but the local Apothecary makes things easier for her by giving her a cure for homesickness. When Janie meets Benjamin Burrows, the Apothecary’s son who dreams of being a spy, she finds herself drawn into the mysterious world of the Apothecary. When the Soviets come looking for the Apothecary and he goes missing, Benjamin and Janie are left with the Pharmacopoeia. The Pharmacopeia is the Apothecary’s ancient book that can tell one how to turn themselves invisible or into birds. With it and their new friend Pip, Benjamin and Janie try to save the Apothecary and end up in the middle of an adventure not to be forgotten.

Perhaps since the first books I fell in love with were junior fiction, I’ve never really stopped loving the genre. I used to get a lot of criticism from friends in high school for still loving books for the younger set, but I honestly could only read books for middle schoolers and be perfectly happy. The Apothecary caught my eye because of the beautiful illustrations by Ian Schoenherr. What’s interesting about this book is that it mixes history and fantasy. Set in London during the Cold War, Janie’s family is forced to leave America during the McCarthy years. In grey and war torn London, she meets a mysterious Apothecary and his intriguing son. Their adventures are tied closely with the Cold War and the events of the time. Perhaps because of this, The Apothecary at first didn’t feel like a fantasy book. Actually, at first it didn’t even read like junior fiction. This might be because Janie tells the story from her perspective in the future. I really liked the writing and the voice of Janie. I also thought the young characters were realistic while still being interesting and original. These things pulled me in, and I was initially absorbed in the story. I loved the concept, but things started to fall apart a bit for me as the story progressed. I didn’t like the pace and I thought that the plotting wasn’t as strong as the writing. In the end, certain parts of the story, especially those related to the nuclear bomb, didn’t make sense and felt a bit sloppy. I still loved the sense of adventure and the combination of historical fiction with magic. The Apothecary is one of those books that could have been better, but it still was an original and engrossing novel.


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