Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Apothecary

The Apothecary  by Maile Meloy
(Borrowed from the Camden County Library System)

I'm not sure how I wound up requesting this book. When I picked it up from the library, I was pretty sure I'd read something of Meloy's before and really enjoyed it, but when I opened the book,  I didn't recognize any of her previously written book titles.  So, despite my confusion about just how the book wound up in my hands, I was not at all disappointed.

Janie Scott's parents are television screenwriters and some of their liberal leanings are causing problems for them in McCarthy era Hollywood.  So, the family packs up and moves to England. There, Janie is put into a very good school and her parents set to work on a television show about Robin Hood.  

Just after settling in to their new home, Janie and her father head to the drug store on their block to pick up a few things.  The apothecary shop is unlike what she is used to at home.  The kind man behind the counter is skilled in curing things like homesickness.  He prepares concoctions using the hundreds of glass jars that line the shelves in the store.  Janie likes Mr. Burrows, the apothecary.  She likes his son Benjamin, too.

One day after school she is in the store when Benjamin and his father have an argument.  She hides so she doesn't seem to be spying on them.  But, Mr. Burrows knows she's there.  It seems that Benjamin is destined to be an apothecary, like his dad, but wants nothing to do with the stuffy old drug store business.  Benjamin wants to be a spy.

As it turns out, he is destined to be both.  Being an apothecary is so much more than just running a drugstore. It's a sacred calling and the people who answer it make a point of doing all they can to make the world a better place.  A lot of their work is dangerous and they have to guard their secrets from people who will use what they've learned for all the wrong reasons.  

Janie and Benjamin wind up on an adventure that spans the globe, fights evil, can help to save millions of lives and make some new friends, all of whom seem rather unlikely.  I don't think any kid has actually been on an adventure that compares to what's written here. Yes, it's completely unlikely and, that makes it all the more fun.  This is historical fiction (with fiction, being the operative word here) at its best.  We've got the Cold War and the McCarthy era paranoia about Communists in Hollywood. You've Janie, the fish out of water in England, left to her own devices due to her parents' hectic work schedules. She and Benjamin become friends at just the right time to wind up on a whirlwind adventure, helping a secret band of good guys make some magic.

The characters are fresh and real and smart. The friendships they make along the way are unexpected and delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I hope it gets the readers and attention that it deserves.

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