Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: The Apothecary

Of all genres of fiction, I think I most prefer children's literature, and here is why:
1) The stories are closely plotted and studded with densely developed characters. I think young readers are less tolerant of hypocrisy in their characters than adults are. They want to get right to the action, and they want the characters who create it to be real.
2) The setting is usually richly drawn without superfluous detail. Everything is intense and finely described in children's literature. I don't know if it is because the authors want to teach their readers a bit about the wider world or if it is less consciously done than that, but I have found it to be true.
3) Food is often described in rich and glorious mouth-watering detail.
4) There is often magic or hints at the unreal, which I fervently enjoy.
5) The endings are most usually happy ones, which I also enjoy. Who wants to spend 250 pages growing to care about a character only to have him die or lose everything? Not me!

So, for these and boundless other reasons, I was quite happy to get sucked into the world of The Apothecary a few weeks ago. I had a sneaking suspicion when I bought it that the author, Maile Meloy, might be related to another author, Colin Meloy (who wrote Wildwood--have I told you about that one?), whose novel I greatly enjoyed. I still don't know if they are related for real, but they are siblings of greatness in the authorial world.
Here's the story: Jane Scott is only daughter to two writers who work together writing television shows. Jane thinks her life is perfect, especially after Japan surrenders to the Americans, but then as time passes, she notices that her parents have begun to have hushed conversations, they look strained, and one day two men in a black car tail her as she walks home from school. It is 1952 now, and her parents, blacklisted as suspected communists, take Jane and flee to England.
Jane hates to go. England is drab and cold and rainy, nothing like sunny California, with strange customs and rules she doesn't understand. But then she makes friends with Benjamin, son of the strange apothecary, and her world becomes very strange indeed. For Benjamin's father is not just any apothecary. He is a member of an ancient and secret society, one devoted to the preservation of a very old manuscript, which he gives to Benjamin to keep safe before he is taken captive by evil people.
Benjamin and Jane, with the help of a clever pickpocket, find their courage and their belief tested as they protect the manuscript and foil the plans of a group determined to unleash a horrible weapon on the world.
Along the way, they learn some magic and have many adventures, and Jane begins to like England and consider that she could be happy there.

This novel has all of the above mentioned qualities: exciting action, well-rounded characters, beautiful settings, and plenty of magic. I also heartily approved of the illustrations introducing each chapter. This book appeals to readers of all ages, serving as more than just an escape from reality: it also teaches about secrets and lies, trust and loyalty to friends and family, and the importance of believing more than what your senses tell you: allowing for the possibilities.

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