The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Source: Erica from The Book Cellar
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 believe that this is one of the few MG titles that I have reviewed on my blog so far. I got this book from Erica at The Book Cellar because she was doing one of those “whoever pays for shipping can have ‘em” book giveaways and I got quite a few books from her, including the ARC of Apothecary.The Apothecary sounded great to me. I love MGs with science and magic in them, because not only did it help me on many science tests that left my classmates scratching their heads with talk of quantum physics and such (thank you James Dashner!) but they are also just wonderful escapism. I can forget the world while I go and drown myself in an MG novel. For those of y’all new to the blogger world or industry, MG is a middle-grade novel, aged approximately ages 8-12. Although plenty of MG books are read and absolutely loved by adults.Anyways, so I was intrigued to pick up this novel. I had been lusting after it for quite a bit, but it wasn’t one of those books that I absolutely had to have. I was interested, but not particularly compelled to buy it. However, I came across it and knew that I had to have it.The Apothecary was one of those wonderfully spun tales of exploration and discovery, science, growing up, and love. It had everything that a novel needed to be wholesome and comforting, while still being entertaining.This novel is set in 1952, during a time of war. Janie’s parents were accused of being sympathizers and Communists, so Janie finds her life uprooted. Her parents decide to move from Los Angeles to London.She doesn’t want to go. Janie was happy practicing her Hepburn walk, junior lifesaving at the beach, and hanging out with her friends. She doesn’t even know what Communism is, so why should she be expected to create a whole new life in another country?When she moves to London – however – she finds adventure and more than enough to keep her occupied.Her parents were working on a show that was telling the story of Robin Hood. She liked to walk to the apothecary shop and spend her time in her house. She never thought that anything would be out of ordinary.It was only the first week of school when Janie discovered a boy she was intrigued by, a boy who refused to let the administration boss him around and seemed to be an independent fixture of the school. Before long, she is intrigued by him enough to take notice that he is involved in something much darker than he should be.She thinks that he is only causing trouble and that it’s nothing serious. When Benjamin’s father, the apothecary, is kidnapped, she knows that it’s another matter altogether.Benjamin and Janie go on a desperate search for clues that could lead them to where Benjamin’s father is taken. Where they go, they discover that something beyond the realm of possibility is taking place. Alchemy and “magic” is taking place in London, and they must manipulate it to figure out his kidnapping once and for all.As they trace a path through the city searching for answers, they find themselves drawing closer to mortal peril than they thought possible.I loved the idea of the plot although the execution ended up being a bit too dry for my taste. There was the idea of magic and there was alchemy, although I was bummed that it wasn’t portrayed as itself. It was more like the concepts brought up in this book were reflections of magic and reflections of alchemy. There was the slightest tinge of disbelief for all the transformations and changes.The description and raving reviews of this made it seem like it would be richer perhaps, a bit deeper than it was. At some points in the book, words just barely skimmed the surface of an issue deeper than you think.I enjoyed Janie as a character. I loved her spunk, independence, and determination. She loved to practice something that she called the Hepburn walk, where she walked like a movie star, like her idol. I enjoyed how she tried to take charge with Benjamin and all but stalked him at first because that is something that I always find amusing.Towards the end, you could see how much that she truly grew throughout the book and how the experiences in the book affected her character. Towards the beginning, she really didn’t understand the significance of communism and the war, but towards the end she started thinking in a broader perspective. At first she wanted to throw a fit for having to leave her friends but by meeting Benjamin and embarking on a journey to save the apothecary taught her that it wasn’t all about her.The war managed to fit into the story extremely well. I had my doubts about this historical fiction aspect of the story to be very good but it completely exceeded my expectations. Also, unlike many authors, I didn’t find Maile to be biased and only spotlight one part of the war, but she managed to convey everybody’s opinions in a way that didn’t contradict each other and was simple.Benjamin was mysterious, but not in that brooding way that many in actual YA are. He was mysterious and yet approachable enough to open up to Janie where they could become friends. He was rash sometimes, and collected in others, but he did seem like the type of guy who would make a journey like that.The supporting characters were so diverse and entertaining that they really added a rich flavor to the story. There was a Russian count and an Asian scientist and there were many different characters who contributed to the adventures and events in this book. They taught the children a lot, but they weren’t transparent about it where you got bored. Each time you thought that you knew what was going to happen, they ended up changing something, although the transitions went very smoothly.The ending was much more intense than I had expected it to be. With MGs, I expect it to be intense but not mindblowing, and with the exception of the 13th Reality series and Jack Blank and the Secret War, none of the books I’ve read has surpassed this. Although Apothecary came close, it didn’t have quite the intensity that it was aiming for. With this in mind, it still provided the reader with an amusing and entertaining climax, and something to be remembered about this book.Yet another highlight about this book was the setting. We got to see Los Angeles a tiny bit at the beginning, a ton of London, and lots of other places too as the end drew nearer. The writing was much more vivid than I expected it to be. Maile Meloy had a way of using a few words to paint a complete picture in your head that seemed incredibly detailed. You could see every little thing that she was describing, although she only gave it the general picture.The tiny bit of romance and the large amount of friendships in the story were at first scattered through the book in bits and pieces. It reminded me of Sal and Ben’s relationship from Walk Two Moons, sharing blackberry kisses. It was chaste, sweet, and undeniably adorable. It was the type of romance that you see in little kid pictures with them hugging each other or staring into each other’s eyes. It wasn’t outright infatuation or lust either, like it sometimes is with YA books.Although I was annoyed with the fact that there was much less magic and alchemy than the synopsis led me to believe. I was hoping that it could be very prominent in the book but that aspect of the book wasn't focused on much, unfortunately. I was bummed by this because I got a bit bored listening to the other things and I would impatiently think, "I WANT MAGIC AND ALCHEMY!" in my head.Benjamin was the type of boy that I would have loved to have as a friend when I was younger. He was curious as well, and Janie and him meshed well together. He liked to explore and he felt like he had something to prove, which made him incredibly determined and persistent. People could learn a few things from this kid.This doesn't even relate to the book itself, but I just have to put this in there. The descriptions of the things that they wore just cracked me up. I found myself looking up what a particular item of clothing or a pop culture reference was and talking with my family about it in disbelief. It led to an entertaining discussion about fashion trends when they were growing up.Towards the middle and end of the book, I got confused. I got confused with what the author was trying to go towards and the middle of the book got shakier. It was twisted and some elements were switched around but I still got confused. By the way, I'm sorry if this review is a bit choppy. I found an old draft of this review and I'm just adding to it.It wasn't the type of book that I would be pining for, but it looked enjoyable enough for me to want to read it and get engrossed in it. It's not the type of book where I want to gush about it, but it's good enough to be a solid read. I'd probably recommend it for anybody who likes a light dose of history with a bit of adventure and a twist.There was actually a surprising amount of history in this book. I wasn't expecting there to be as much, but there were some elements that were just common knowledge to any person growing up in that time period but there were also some fun facts about it.The ending was more scientific than magical though. The whole book was supposed to be about alchemy, but it was mostly just science. I would have liked to see more of everything. Everything seemed a little less developed than it should have been. We got the essence of the characters and the essence of the plot but we never saw everything truly developed. Because of this, it came across as drier and not as filling as it should have been, but it was good. It's a good start as an author.The writing was obviously thought out. It wasn't anything particularly profound or memorable about the writing, but she did give life to certain parts of the story that helped compensate for the rest of the book. I wouldn't say that this is a book that you should go out and buy right away, but perhaps check it out from the library or consider it if you ever stumble across it in the bookstore. It'd make a pretty good story for somebody younger, but not somebody old enough to be able to point out the flaws and not enjoy it fully enough because of that.The only thing that really made this book stand out for me were the illustrations! They were so talented and I looked forward to pages with the illustrations for them. They made the book pop and they were just fantastic! The synopsis is right: breathtaking was exactly the word that I would use for these illustrations. They are absolutely amazing!If you're looking for a developed read, I'd say to pass this one up. But if you're not the type of person to be distracted by underdeveloped characters and would just like a cute story with a dash of history, I'd say to give it a shot.No recommendations.No book club questions.