Release Date: October 4th 2011
Also by this Author: Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It (Adult)
Buy It: Book Depository
It’s 1952 and the Scott family has just moved from Los Angeles to London. Here, Janie meets a mysterious apothecary and his son, Benjamin. When Benjamin’s father is kidnapped, Janie and Benjamin must uncover the secrets of the apothecary’s sacred book 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.I really enjoyed this first novel for younger readers by Maile Meloy, whose short story collection Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It I'd previously enjoyed. Obviously The Apothecary, intended for a middle grade audience, is quite different but Meloy's adult work, but it maintains her smart description, concise style and lovely details. There are some quirky but amazingly accurate descriptions, including several of hair near the beginning of the book such as "wore her white hair coiled up like a ghost's pastry on the back of her head" and "tight, gray curls reminded me of a sheep."
Meloy also doesn't let the fact that this is a children's book stop her from throwing in some incredible words, several of which I have to look up to know their precise definition (like corpulent!) even though the meanings are obvious in context. I love the way The Apothecary has of unintentionally expanded the reader's vocabulary, and it's yet another reason it would be a great book for younger readers; Meloy doesn't talk down to her audience.
Admittedly, my advance reader copy of the novel was missing many drawings, but the half I did see were really lovely, though the truth is that I preferred the ones in Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver. Though the pictures are great and compliment the text, Meloy tells as riveting story without them, and her words are vivid enough in creating imagery that the drawings are technically unnecessary.
The Apothecary is packed with adventure, much of it with a slightly magical twist, and I absolutely adored the story it contained. It was a perfect mix of action, exploration of important issues, and a nice touch of romance thrown in. It's a story that is entertaining in a way I didn't expect from Meloy with her quiet and adult short stories, but the result is enjoyable and definitely has convinced me of cross-genre skills.
The characters in this novel were realistic and fun to read. Janie struggled with the issue of being a new girl in a foreign country, and I thought that Meloy dealt with her insecurity and subsequent growth in a very authentic way. I especially loved Pip, a charming and mischievous character certainly worthy of his own novel. The only character I wasn't entirely satisfied with was Benjamin, in particular his romantic storyline which involved a change of mind that was never really explained and left me wanting more. The romance wasn't at all necessary in the story, but if it was going to be there, I did want it to be a little less haphazard.
Having enjoyed Meloy's adult fiction, I was both curious and excited about how her writing would transfer for the middle grade audience; and the result was incredible. An exciting and whimsical adventure, The Apothecary is the kind of classic spy meets fantasy meets historical story that is certain to age well. A very enjoyable experience and I certainly hope that Meloy will write for younger readers again in the future; I might be much older than the intended audience, but I'd be excited to read another middle grade novel by her in the future.