Aaron's Reviews > Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman
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's review
Dec 02, 2010

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Cushman, who has already written strong books about the Middle Ages with Catherine, Called Birdy, The Midwife's Apprentice, and Matilda Bone brings middle/intermediate readers into a later era the early years of Elizabeth I's reign. Margaret "Meggy" Swann has come to London to live with her father, whom she has never really known. To date, she has lived in the English countryside with her mother, who runs the town tavern. Going to the city is going to be a big change, and she is not sure that she is going to be able to adapt well since she has a strong limp that makes it painful and difficult for her to walk. She is only able to do so with the help of a pair of walking sticks.

Meggy arrives in the city with only a few things and her best friend Louise, who is a goose with a wing abnormality that makes it impossible for her to fly. The two arrive at her father's house and are greeted by an outgoing apprentice who introduces her to the fact that her father is, in fact, an alchemist, and one who has little care for anything other than his research.

This dashes Meggy's hope that this will be an opportunity for her to get to know her father better. In fact, he is distant and seems disappointed by the fact that she needs to be taken care of. He would rather have had a boy who would be able to follow in his footsteps and be an apprentice. This does not stop her from trying to live up to his hopes. She not only starts to care for the house and makes sure that he eats when he is supposed, but she also starts to help him around his laboratorium.

As Meggy learns more about her father's work, she also comes across a horrible secret, and she is going to have to decide what it means for her father, her relationship to him, and to those around them. It is a decision that will change their lives forever. She turns to some neighbors she has built friendships with for some help and advice throughout the whole book.

I had really been looking forward to this one both because I like the author and the time period. The characters were interesting, but the book itself seemed to struggle a bit with keeping my attention. In a way, it felt like the book just brushed the surface of the characters introduced and the story seemed to have little content when it comes to plot. While it is a short novel, it almost felt like an extended short story. The concept was great, but I just felt like it could have been so much more meaty.

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