Tuesday, January 3, 2012


With illustrations by Ian Schoenherr

Normally I don't read young adult books for review.  I think this is due mostly to the fact that I never really read them when I was a young adult.  I sort of skipped that and went straight on to adult titles (The most notable exception being the wonderful stories of John Bellairs). That, and I suppose I am so buried under books written for adults that to expand genres would only complicate matters.  But something about the descriptions drew me to The Apothecary and I wasn't disappointed.  

The young heroine is a smart and insightful, but terribly self-conscious fourteen year-old girl.  Already struggling (like anyone) to make the awkward transition from kid to teenager in a sunshiny, idyllic Los Angeles of the early 1950s, she is forced to uproot and move to London.  Her parents, successful television writers in Hollywood, are under surveillance by HUAC.  Rather than  fight a losing battle against unfounded suspicion, they decide to take jobs writing for the BBC.  

Just one of the gorgeous illustrations by Ian Schoenherr

Dropped in the midst of postwar London, without a friend or a clue, Janie Scott becomes immersed in a strange and magical world.  She befriends the son of the local apothecary (the pharmacist, in American) and discovers that the shop dispenses more than the usual remedies.  They are charged with keeping safe an ancient book with recipes and must keep it from falling into the wrong hands. 

Janie's adventure is great fun.  And like any true young adult book ought, not everything turns out perfectly.  Having just been to London myself this past summer, I especially enjoyed seeing the city through the eyes of another who also felt wonder and overwhelmed at every turn.  

I was incredibly thrilled that the Chelsea Physic Garden figures into the story.  It might have been my favorite stop in London; I didn't want to leave.  It's truly an oasis in the middle of the city, and  is a very impressive garden in its own right.  

One of my MANY photos from the Chelsea Physic Garden
All to often books talk down to young readers.  Not so here.  The book is well written and moves right along.  It's adventurous and imaginative.  Despite its young tone, I was never bored.  I can highly recommend it for young ladies with a particularly precocious spirit.  

A great many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.  

ISBN 9780399256271 | 368 pages | 04 Oct 2011
Putnam Juvenile | 9.25 x 6.25in | 10 - AND UP years

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