by Maile Meloy
Hardcover, 368 pages
October 4th 2011
by Putnam Juvenile
It’s 1952 and the Scott family has just moved from Los Angeles to London. Here, fourteen-year-old Janie meets a mysterious apothecary and his son, Benjamin Burrows–a fascinating boy who’s not afraid to stand up to authority and dreams of becoming a spy. When Benjamin’s father is kidnapped, Janie and Benjamin must uncover the secrets of the apothecary’s sacred book, the Pharmacopoeia, in order to find him, all while keeping it out of the hands of their enemies–Russian spies in possession of nuclear weapons. Discovering and testing potions they never believed could exist, Janie and Benjamin embark on a dangerous race to save the apothecary and prevent impending disaster.
Together with Ian Schoenherr’s breathtaking illustrations, this is a truly stunning package from cover to cover.
I have always been fascinated by apothecaries and their work of mixing potions, so when I saw this book I was immediately interested. Main protagonist, Janie has moves with her parents in a very secretive manner from Los Angeles to London and upon arrival they venture into a small old fashioned pharmacy for hot water bottles to keep them warm. There they meet the local apothecary, an intelligent middle aged man who stirs up a fresh batch of something special to help Janie with her homesickness. But going to school in a private academy with uniforms and no friends, Janie can’t help but to feel a little forlorn. That is, until she meets the apothecary’s son Benjamin. Janie catches him following her on errands one afternoon and from there they become fast friends and “chess partners in the park. ” The reality morphs as the two of them transform into young spies pulled head first into a web of secrets, danger and compromised national security. Bejamin’s father is missing, the two children have an old book they are to protect with their life and a new pickpocket sidekick named Pip. Can they save the secrets passed down from generation to generation or will they be caught by the man with the scarred face?
This is my favorite middle grade read in a long time! I loved the illustrations that are sprinkled in as well as the fast paced suspenseful narrative. Set close on the heels time wise of CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, The Apothecary has a historical element that teaches what life may have been like for those children affected by the war- including threats of bombings, drills, and overall suspicion of all foreign residents. Along with the historical piece there is a magical, wonderful overlay of adventure that will spark the imagination. There is some moderate violence, but otherwise nothing worrisome in content. I truly enjoyed every minute of the Apothecary Though it concluded like a stand alone, I can’t help hoping there will be more books coming for Janie and Benjamin!