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The Apothecary by M. Meloy

Meloy, Maile. The Apothecary. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2011. Print.

A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Los Angeles-based Maile Meloy is an acclaimed author of novels and short stories for adults. In 2007, she was named one of Granta’s 21 Best Young American Novelists. With The Apothecary, Ms. Meloy makes her entrance into book writing for a young adult audience.

The Apothecary won the 2011 E.B. White Read-Aloud Award, Middle Reader category (coincidentally, the other winner that year was Wildwood, a book written by the author’s brother). Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Public Library, and Booktrust in the UK all declared The Apothecary as one of the best children’s books of 2011.

Set in the mid-1900s, The Apothecary is a work of historical fiction that that takes place during the Cold War era. Fourteen-year-old Janie Scott is followed home from school one day by US Marshals, then her parents suddenly decide to move the family to London. Uprooted from her home in Hollywood, Janie receives an unusual cure for homesickness from the local apothecary. She meets Benjamin, the apothecary’s son, who takes a dim view of his father’s drug store and is much more interested in becoming an agent of the Secret Intelligence Service than aspiring to the profession of apothecary.

In a cloak and dagger turn of events, Benjamin’s father is kidnapped and Janie and Benjamin are entrusted with protecting the Pharmacopeia, a book containing alchemical recipes. Along the way, they connect with a young pickpocket named Pip - the intrepid trio search for Benjamin’s father, outmaneuvering Russian spies, and playing a critical role in averting nuclear disaster. The themes of espionage, magic and mystery, with hints of romance will engage a range of readers. Ian Schoenherr’s black and white illustrations herald the start of each chapter and complement Meloy’s sombre and suspenseful tale.

Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Maria Tan

Maria is a Public Services Librarian at the University of Alberta’s H. T. Coutts Education Library. She enjoys travelling and visiting unique and far-flung libraries. An avid foodie, Maria’s motto is, “There’s really no good reason to stop the flow of snacks”.