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The Apothecary

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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.

362 pages, Hardcover

First published August 29, 2011

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About the author

Maile Meloy

34 books825 followers
Maile Meloy is the author of the novels Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter, the story collections Half in Love and Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It (named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review), and the award-winning Apothecary trilogy for young readers. She has received the PEN/Malamud Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was chosen as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. Her new novel for adults, Do Not Become Alarmed, will be published June 6, 2017.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,768 reviews
Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,751 followers
January 12, 2012
I can be a very smug librarian sometimes. It can get me into trouble. Take my reaction to the cover of Maile Meloy's The Apothecary, for instance. Here we have one of the lovelier illustrated book jackets to come out in recent years. Illustrator Ian Schoenherr really put his heart and soul into it. So what was my initial reaction? I picked it up, noticed the American robin on the cover paired with the image below of some buildings raising the British flag and sniffed, "That's not an English robin." I was feeling very pleased with myself because as The Secret Garden taught me, English robins and American robins are entirely different. It never really occurred to me that the fact that the robin on the cover was American wasn't just on purpose but essential to the plot itself. Come to think of it, there were a lot of things about this book that struck me as surprising when I came across them. The blend of historical fiction and fantasy (or is it science fiction?) for example. The engaging characters, memorable details, and compelling writing. Oh it had a couple fits and starts along the way, don't get me wrong, but if we're looking to tip a hat to a book that dares to do something a little different than its contemporaries, The Apothecary is worth that tip.

You'd think that growing up in Hollywood, California, the last thing Janie Scott would be worried about would be the American government. Yet when the blacklist forces her family to move as far away as London, Janie finds herself navigating a whole new world. The year is 1959 and before she knows it Janie finds herself wrapped up in the troubles of a cute boy in her school named Benjamin. Turns out his father is an apothecary, and not just the run-of-the-mill kind either. Benjamin's father is one of a long line of alchemists and the secrets he holds are of interest to some pretty shady characters. Now it's up to Janie, Benjamin, and their friend Pip to aid the apothecary cause, even if it means heading straight for the heart of a nuclear explosion.

I think that it is safe to say that if a person were to pick this book up without any prior knowledge of the contents inside, they might very well believe this to be a book of straight historical fiction for approximately sixty-nine pages or so. They'll be brought up to speed relatively quickly after that point, but part of what I liked about this title was that Meloy didn't skimp on the historical details. She's perfectly aware that if you're going in for some serious world building, you need to get your facts straight. No surprise that when you get to the end Meloy credits books like David Kynaston's Austerity Britain 19451951 with her research. Her attention to detail shows and rewards the reader with a book that doesn't place the book in the past for romantic or twee reasons. Meloy had a purpose in mind when she chose 1952. One that she, in turn, shares with the rest of us.

Mind you, there is such a thing as taking it too far. Enter Pip, an escapee from a Dickens novel. Not literally of course (though that would have been forgivable) but in the figurative sense. Pip is your average and apparently obligatory street-smart kid con artist. The kind more at home running errands for Sherlock Holmes than existing in a world with television and atom bombs. You half expect him to break into cockney rhyming slang half the time, making him a fun if slightly unbelievable companion to our two heroes. I tried to figure out why Meloy thought Pip would be a necessary addition and I'm stumped. Certainly it's more fun to follow three heroes in a book rather than just two. But Pip just seems so out of place every time he opens his mouth or picks a lock. It was a bit distracting.

Maile Meloy has, until now, primarily acted as an author of books for adults. In my experience, when an adult author makes the switchover to children's lit, the results are often patronizing, dull, or patronizingly dull. It's like authors for grown-ups see books for children as less deserving of decent writing than their adult brethren. So part of what I like so much about Ms. Meloy is that she seems to harbor a healthy respect for her readers. She makes unique choices with her book. For example, it's interesting to note that in this story our heroes are hoping to contain the effects of a nuclear test rather than an actual bombing itself. Huh! I will say that there's a bit of a Deus Ex Machina ending to this book that struck me as a tad silly but it's not something that sank the title for me. All told, Meloy makes the right choices at the right times nine times out of ten.

The question of audience comes up with a book like this, partly because the publisher itself wasn't entirely certain how to market this. Is this a book for children or teens? With its lovely illustrations and fantastical elements there's definitely a middle grade kid feel at work. On the other hand it stars a 14-year-old who has a small romance and deals with everything from Cold War politics to McCarthyism. Personally, I think tweens and teens alike will get a kick out of this book. There's no reason to limit it to one area or another.

I've been wracking my brain, trying to come up with a fantasy novel for kids or teens that's set in a past that isn't an alternate magical history like Kat Incorrigible or Thirteenth Child. It's rather rare and yet the idea is delightful. Cold War spying with magic. It practically sells itself! Maile Meloy takes this rather unique idea and rather than phoning the past in, does the necessary research, writes a compelling (not to say amusing) book, and the end result is a fantasy (or is it science fiction?) novel that can truly be called unique. It may have a funny little quirk here and there, but all told this is a strong piece of writing from a writer that I certainly hope we'll see a lot more of. Original. Quirky. Fun.

For ages 10 and up.
Profile Image for Maja (The Nocturnal Library).
1,013 reviews1,890 followers
November 25, 2011
Sweet and entertaining, but not what I expected.

It's the year 1952, and 14-year-old Janie is living a happy, carefree life with her parents in Los Angeles. One day, while walking home from school, she notices a black sedan following her, which causes her parents to panic and make some sudden decisions. Suspected of being communist sympathizers, they feel like they have no choice but to pack everything up and move to London.
Starting school in London is harder than she ever imagined. Janie hates everything about her new school: her classmates, having to learn Latin, speaking differently than everyone else… until she meets Benjamin Burrows, son of the local apothecary.
Benjamin’s future is set. He’s supposed to take over his father’s business some day, but he hates the very idea of becoming an apothecary – he would much rather be a spy. It turns out, however, that Benjamin’s father is nowhere near as boring as he seems. He is the keeper of a very important book, the Pharmacopoeia, and one of the very few people who know how to use it. When the apothecary gets kidnapped, it’s up to Janie and Benjamin to keep the book safe from Russian spies and others who would do anything to get their hands on it.

The Apothecary is a middle grade adventure book, with an (unnecessary) touch of magic. I usually have very little patience for middle grade books and I’ve been avoiding them ever since I got over my obsession with Enid Blyton some 15 years ago, but The Apothecary kept me interested and left me wanting more. Janie is truly an admirable heroine and she and Benjamin make a great team. They never once disappointed me, and even when they made mistakes, they realized them pretty quickly.
The magical elements felt just a little out of place at first. When the kids turned into birds and flew off a roof, I felt like I’d just been slapped. It did get better eventually, with the arrival of some new characters, but I think that I’d have been happier with a non-paranormal spy adventure in this case.

I’ve been told that there are some great illustrations in this book, but you’ll have to read other people’s reviews to find out about those. I can only tell you that the audio is very good. I didn’t expect much from Cristin Millioti after she completely ruined Virals for me last year, but this time, she did an excellent job with all the accents.

For this review and more, visit The Nocturnal Library
Profile Image for C.V. Sutherland.
Author 1 book8 followers
December 20, 2013
I loved it. One of my all-time favorite books, because it's just the right blend of romance, fantasy, action and realistic fiction all together. After I finished, I just sat in a sort of daze, because I'd never been that affected by a book regarding emotions, period. It was amazing.
Profile Image for Steph Su.
949 reviews452 followers
September 24, 2012
THE APOTHECARY is the kind of middle-grade historical thriller that younger audiences or readers who are interested more in the actions rather than the thoughts and motivations of characters will enjoy best. I couldn't help feeling like it relied a little too much on old-fashioned attitudes toward WWII-era enemies and allies in its portrayal of foreign characters. It was disconcerting to see Jin Lo, the Chinese chemist, portrayed as a beautiful, poised, elegant, and a little snooty woman who casually swoops in to save the clumsy citizens with her stunning brain and, oh, just so happens to be good at kung fu as well. She is like the MG historical fiction equivalent of the perfect--and perfectly exoticized--Asian female kung fu master character that seems like a necessity in martial arts films and is the stuff of socially awkward, anime-loving teenage boys' wet dreams. Ick.

Janie was a pretty decent protagonist who didn't degenerate into pity-me helplessness no matter how hard the story tried to force its characters into cardboard roles. Janie's parents' and their friends are the kind of nerdy, intelligent, and wacky-humored adults that I want more of, both in literature and in real life. Unfortunately, the story's determination to let its nonstop fast pace slip and slide around without regarding for natural character development meant that, despite how potentially awesome the characters were, I never connected to the characters or the story.
Profile Image for Maryam.
698 reviews112 followers
December 30, 2016
I really liked this middle grade adventure story. The writing style is very good and story is promising enough. Its actual audiences are young adults but I think anybody who likes magic and adventure can enjoy this book.

It’s 1952 and Janie is a 14-years-old American girl living with her parents in California. As her parents become suspected as “Communists”, they decide to move to London and work for BBC. Janie doesn’t like this change in her life and starts her new school skeptically. She meets Benjamin there, a strong boy who is not afraid of telling his opinion. They soon become friends and when Benjamin’s father disappears they start a journey to find him and also keep a very important book away from Russian spies.

This book is not only about adventure but friendship and love too. I liked mixture of spy thriller with magic and everything else.
Profile Image for Dewitt.
Author 41 books52 followers
August 30, 2019
By Maile Meloy; Putnam, 2011

Despite its widely positive reception, I am baffled how Maile Meloy’s fifth book, THE APOTHECARY—her first for Young Adults—could engage a serious writer’s talent, even as a holiday from seriousness. There are investments: in the historical framework of 1952, in the Los Angeles of that time (with McCarthyism and the black list), and the London of that time. The author has done research and invested time and setting with realistic detail. The heroine, fourteen year old Janie, is a smart and nervy girl who models herself after Katherine Hepburn, and whose screenwriter parents, harassed as Communist sympathizers at home, take her from Los Angeles to London, where they are working on a Robin Hood script. From here, the story attempts to appeal to a Harry Potter audience. Janie becomes involved with an Apothecary and his son Benjamin. The Apothecary is descended through a clan of alchemists stretching through the ages and is now dedicated to containing and transforming nuclear weapons in the Cold War arms race, while agents from governments on all sides try to stop them.

Apparently this idea was pitched to the author by a Hollywood screenwriter/producer team, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levine, whose credits include MADELINE and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. In her afterword, Meloy tells us they trusted her “with the beginnings of a story they cared deeply about. They described what they had imagined as a movie, let me run with it, and talked through the convolutions with me as it changed.” In other words, THE APOTHECARY is the novelization of an unwritten script, and will likely be turned back into script and film.

That said, I sense the serious writer having fun less with the plot, which verges on being slapdash and silly rather than inventive, than with aspects of the alchemists’ transformative powers, which through various concoctions, powders, and herbs (especially those grown in the Chelsea Physic Garden in London), can temporarily change people into birds, force them to speak truth, make them invisible, reduce them to piles of salt (which can be rehydrated), and cast invisible nets powerful enough to contain a nuclear blast and its radiation.

For instance, here Janie is cornered by an adult secret agent on a rooftop. Her friends Benjamin and Pip have both taken a potion that changed them into birds, and now it is her turn, if she is to escape: “I felt a strange, rushing feeling my veins, and understood why Benjamin and Pip had looked so surprised. I’d never been aware of each individual blood vessel in my body like that, and of the blood coursing through them. Then I felt my heartbeat speed up, and my bones seemed to lighten….My skull felt like it was changing shape, and lightening, and I thought: Allow for the possibilities. And then I leaped, still human, off the roof…. My hands became wings in midair, and my legs became tiny bird legs.”

Here at least is a touch of meta-fiction: the “magic” is imagination, and the alchemist is a stand-in for the writer and her power with words. While such passages recall Ovid in THE METAMORPHOSIS or even Gabriel Marquez, many others tend be simply realistic descriptions of technical effects we recognize from such films as the X-men series, imaginative clichés at this point.

In the love plot between Janie and Benjamin there is a sweet shyness, as well as mutual regard and kindred intelligence, nerve, and wits. The dialogue is consistently good. There is some fun with modesty as they must each undress to bathe in the solution that makes them invisible, leaving only a shoulder or tip of a nose visible so that they may detect each other. At the end, there is a long delayed and hard-won first kiss: “I could feel the warmth of his breath and smell his clean, soapy skin. I wondered where he had slept and bathed, but then his lips touched mine and I felt a steady current of electricity running through my whole body. I knew I would never forget the feeling, as long as I lived.” Such moments are winning.

The educational product placement as Janie mentions Tolstoy, Dickens and Henry James at different points is commendable--plugs to young readers for the highest art of the realistic novel—but I find the public service moral against nuclear arms, as voiced by the Apothecary, more corny than visionary: “we must make the greater world a different place. As it stands, we are all threatened, at every moment, and nothing we can do to lock our own doors and earn our pay and tuck our children in bed will make the slightest difference.” Indeed; but for conviction try Neville Shute’s ON THE BEACH.

In a recent PW Interview Meloy mentions that while writing THE APOTHECARY, she “started itching to work on a grown-up book.” We look forward.
Profile Image for Anmiryam.
777 reviews133 followers
December 22, 2011
When literary writers shift gears into writing for young adults the enterprise is risky. Will they overload the narrative with complexities of language or ambiguities of perspective that swamp the action? Will they create central characters that are believably complex children or adolescents? In Maile Meloy's case the payoff was worth the risk, though any reader of her previous works would expect this to be the case. She is a writer of deceptive simplicity whose tales are full of details that are rich and make a powerful impression without being flashy.

In "The Apothecary" she has crafted a story that is adventurous and historical without being didactic -- the bleak post-war London she evokes with a few key words comes to life in sight, sound and smell; the story uses it's Cold War setting as a fabulous backdrop to make readers think about loyalty and moral choices without preaching. Her teenagers grapple with the feelings of no longer being children, but not really being adults and not always understanding adult motivations though they are beginning to realize they have power to act, even if they don't understand everything around them. The romance between the central characters feels true and undated, despite the nearly 60 years between the novel's 1952 setting and the present. And, even better, there's magic. Magic that works with the plot and with the characters, magic that feels magical and somehow realistic at the same time.

There are flaws, of course, but they are forgivable. Does literature need another cockney kid descended from the Artful Dodger (with the appropriately Dickensian name of Pip) who nearly steals the show? Probably not, but Pip is more than entertaining and you feel he deserves every bit of the energy Meloy invests into him. Are the bad guys too simply bad, the good guys too good and some of the plot twists too obvious? For me as an adult, perhaps so, but for a reader between the ages of 10 and 16, probably not. Is the framing device a bit clunky? Yes, but it's needed to tidy up what would have otherwise been some very messy loose ends.

Small reservations aside, I'm extremely glad that the door has been left open for sequels. Let's hope Meloy decides to walk through and bring us more Jainie and Benjamin, Pip and Sarah.
Profile Image for Sonia.
272 reviews
July 30, 2016
+95 points for an original story with scientific interest and authentic Cold War detail despite belonging to the overdone YA magic genre. +5 for Southern California. -15 for making the Latin teacher the villain. -50 for a ridiculous Latin error. -50 for letting the otherwise wonderful illustrations be marred by SAME LATIN ERROR. +10 for Chinese character. -30 for describing Chinese character with hair like a "silken rope" and a "kung fu" kick. -15 for gratuitous sequel trolling. Sum: -50.

HEAR YE, AUTHORS AND EDITORS! Pay me to fix your Latin and Greek. Maile Meloy, I don't care if your brother is in the Decemberists. You have lost all cred with me. "Rectie"--well, that's just like forcing my mouth open and vomiting into it.

On a personal note, my copy of this book came from the Malden Public Library (via the main Boston branch). It was in Malden that my Chinese grandfather got into a fight with an Irish kid and, as a direct or indirect consequence, dropped out of school--never getting beyond approximately 10th grade. He died when I was 16, but I'm sure he would be glad that his granddaughter was fortunate enough to acquire so much education that it turned her into the pedant who wrote this.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Terri Lynn.
997 reviews
December 29, 2014
I wish I could give this 10 stars. I loved this writer's style and story immensely. It's labeled for young adults but forget that- it is as delightful for adults of all ages as for teens. Set in 1952 Los Angeles and London, you'll love Jane, Benjamin, Pip, the Apothecary and maybe even Sarah! At the time of the Communist witch hunts in the USA, two screenwriters move to London with their daughter to write for the BBC to avoid being arrested as Communist sympathizers only for their daughter to get tied up in a magical mystery that will take her and her friends to the Soviet Union!
Profile Image for Celia Buell.
558 reviews26 followers
February 4, 2023
Here's another favorite from middle school that I never actually reread, at least not in recent years. I'm happy to say it's still a hit for me.

I love the girl power of women in science in the 1950s in this one. From the beginning, Janie is an intelligent woman who doesn't back down, and yet the story is not about attempting to achieve equality with a man. In contrast, Janie already has it. While this may not be realistic in the 1950s, it's nice to take a break from that fight in literature about the era, when so much that's written for adults and even older teens is about those struggles. I guess that's why it's fun to go back and read middle grade or young adult sometimes. I know it wasn't realistic for the time, but I'm glad that there is historical fiction where this doesn't need to be at the forefront.

Although we've definitely moved past the "two boys one girl trio" trope in more recent young adult fantasy, and I would have liked more involvement from female characters in this one (and especially in the sequel, but no matter), I like the way it's done here, with the main trio, but also the trio of scientists. At the point they were about to meet Jin Lo, I was like, "yes, my favorite character" and I don't even remember if I felt that way the first time reading the first two books, or if I'm just struck with that feeling now after reading books like Lilac Girls and other WWII and post-WWII books that show how far women still had to go in the 1940s and 50s.

I also love Pip and the way he takes everything in stride from the very beginning. He's definitely an example of the "convenient" character who shows up when he's needed, but again, it's done really well, and he serves as comic relief and a relief to have in general as the third member of the main trio.

I think sometimes later middle grade to early YA fantasy just hits different. This is the third time in the last few months that I've completely fallen into an old favorite middle grade fantasy. There's something about that genre, more than any other, that just takes me out of reality for a while.

I'm definitely going to read the second one The Apprentices soon, and then hopefully I can finally read The After-Room while it's still fresh in my mind.
Profile Image for Mackay.
Author 4 books22 followers
October 25, 2011
Shoulda known. The NYT review that was instrumental in my reading this waxed all poetic about Meloy's adult fiction and then said something to the effect that the reviewer was worried when commencing this because it was (gasp! o the horror!) fantasy, but Meloy's writing carried it off.

Really? That's what snobbish reviewers think is good fantasy? What do they know if they don't have anything to compare it to?

Some writers of adult fiction can carry off YA with grace and verve. I'm not sure Meloy did. The story is okay, though the characters are thin, the fantasy is given short shrift (if I'm gonna turn into a bird, I want to know what it's like! I want to experience bird to the core of my being!!), and the ultimate doom--hydrogen bombs--getting shut off by magic back in the McCarthy era, just seems weird and not fully realized, especially from the vantage point of the 21st century. Ho hum.
Profile Image for Eva Mitnick.
771 reviews27 followers
October 29, 2011
It's 1952 and 14-year-old Janie's parents have just been blacklisted, which means a move for the whole family from Los Angeles to London. Janie experiences major culture shock - not only is post-war London gray, cold and drab, but also they have to put pennies in a meter just to heat their flat, there is still rationing, and the students at her new school are learning Latin.

Mostly, the students seem fairly snobby, but one boy, Benjamin, appeals to Janie. Intense and defiant, he wants to be a spy, not an apothecary like his father - but his father, it turns out, is much more than a simple dispenser of drugs and medicaments. Rather, he is one in a long line of apothecaries who have guarded the hard-won secrets of herbal and medicinal lore, all of which have been written down in an old tome called the Pharmacopoeia.

The Soviets, aided by the East Germans, want to get their hands on these secrets and will stop at nothing, including torture and murder, to get them. Janie and Benjamin join forces with a small bunch of eccentric and brilliant scientists, plus a street-smart urchin named Pip, to preserve those secrets and save the world from the threat of nuclear war.

Clearly there are familiar elements here, with bits and pieces reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles series, Baccalario's Century Quartet series, and even N.D. Wilson's recent The Dragon's Tooth. Ancient knowledge must be kept out of the hands of the bad guys, and only a couple of intrepid kids and a few trustworthy adults can save the world from Evil.

So yes, it's been done before. But what makes this book stand out is the freshness and competence of the writing, which sparkles with both humor and warmth. Meloy has a gift for introducing a scene in just a few perfect sentences, giving us an immediate sense of both place and emotional resonance. Here is Janie describing her first day at school.

The school was in a stone building with arches and turrets that seemed very old to me but wasn't old at all, in English terms. It was build in 1880, so it was practically brand-new... Two teachers walking down the hall wore black academic gowns, and they looked ominous and forbidding, like giant bats. The students all wore dark blue uniforms with white shirts... I didn't have a unform yet, and wore my bright green Hepburn trousers and a yellow sweater, which looked normal in LA, but here looked clownishly out of place. I might as well have carried a giant sign saying I DON'T BELONG.

Making Janie an American who finds herself in England means we get to experience all the foreignness of a different country along with her, and in addition the readers can see how different 1952 was, when the Soviet threat felt very immediate and kids had to take part in bomb drills at school.

This isn't supposed to be a fantasy; it's science, not magic, that creates all the fantastical effects. However, any potion that can turn children into birds or make them invisible counts as magic in my book, so let's call this a fantasy and not science fiction. After all, Benjamin becomes a starling while Janie becomes the very American red-breasted robin, which feels like a very magical touch.

The blossoming of romance between Janie and Benjamin is both sweet and age-appropriate, and makes the ending all the more bittersweet. And yet the end is satisfying and right, even if it's one few readers would hope for.

The plot is supremely far-fetched in almost every way, and the science or magic or whatever makes no sense whatsoever - and these are definitely flaws, when one considers the masterful plotting of a book like Stead's When You Reach Me. But they are only small imperfections when measured against the quality of the writing and the delight of Janie's adventures with Benjamin and the rest of her odd companions.

Highly recommended for ages 11 to 14.
Profile Image for Rhiannon Ryder.
298 reviews21 followers
August 5, 2012
I'm telling you, my BEA shelf might be getting less crowded but it's still full of all sorts of fantastic gems. The Apothecary was one of those books I didn't even have to read the blurb for when I grabbed it at the BEA. That beautiful cover sold me on the spot. To my intense delight the art continues on to the inside, although my copy is missing a lot of it because it was so advanced ,as if I need more excuses than that to buy a finished copy.

The Apothecary is not just another pretty face though, the story inside is very much worthy of all the delicious art. A magical tale, tied in with the Cold War, the story was one of those unique birds that is both fresh and exciting. I'm not sure the complications of the Cold War would be something I would ever consider putting into a children's book, and yet it makes a fascinating twist to Janie and Benjamin's world. Even more impressive is how Meloy manages to explain the basic elements of a complicated time period in a straightforward, no nonsense and easy to understand way. My high school history teacher could have done with a sit down with her.

Great concept and interesting time choice aside though, it's the characters who steal the show. Janie and Benjamin are both completely lovable and relatable. Janie's attempts to be cavalier and assured like Katharine Hepburn and her admiration of Benjamin for standing up to the lunch matron during the bomb drills,

"It's idiotic, I won't do it... we both know that these desks would have done nothing against those bombs...But this isn't even a V-2 we're talking about, This is an atom bomb. When it comes, not even the basement shelters will save us. We'll all be incinerated, the whole city."

not to mention her complete embarrassment during the smell of truth incident,

"All right," he said. "So who do you fancy?"
I hesitated. "Fancy means like, right?" I asked, stalling... "You," I said helplessly.
"Me?" Benjamin flushed crimson...
"Oh, that's embarrassing," I said. "I hate this. Quick, before it wears off, who do you fancy?"...
"Aargh," he said " I hate this, too! All right! I like Sarah Pennington!"
I was too shocked, briefly, to be mortified that it wasn't me. "Sarah Pennington?" I said. "She's awful! She's mean and pretentious!"
"I know." He seemed genuinely sorry about it. " But she's also beautiful. I don't want to like her. But I can't help it! She sits in front of me in maths, and the curve of her neck, under that braid, drives me completely mad."
"Stop!" I said. " Enough! It works."

make her one of the more lovable girl characters in the sea of strong boy characters in Middle School reads.

Benjamin on the other hand is feisty, unrepentant and yet the last to believe any of the Apothecary nonsense. Between him, Janie and later character Pip, there is no end of trouble they can all cause and get into. Honestly, I was more than a little bit jealous at the end. I wanted to hang out with these kids. Thank goodness there's more Janie and Benjamin goodness in the works!

A fantastic adventure with great characters this would be on the top of my list of new Middle school books for anyone looking for something to sink their teeth into.

Amusing side note? The author is the sister of the Decemberists Colin Meloy, who wrote Wildwood, another beautifully illustrated Middle Grade novel sitting in my TBR stacks for awhile now (the hubby read it awhile back and loved it). Who knew my book shelves were so full of family members?
Profile Image for Matthew Salesses.
Author 25 books474 followers
May 29, 2013
The story of an American girl who moves to England with her parents during the Cold War, after her parents are suspected as Communists. She meets a boy who wants to be a spy and whose father, the apothecary, has a magic book and is in trouble because of it. When real spies show up looking for the book, the two children set off on the kind of quest you want from a book like this. This time, the quest, the characters, the world-building, the magic, are in top form, so good that this book has set me off on a kids' books binge. There's so much fun here. Best book I've read all year.

I'm starting to think what makes a kids' book is Wonder. And also that Wonder is something that is missing from a lot of books written (only) for adults. I miss it. I didn't even know I had been missing it for so long until I read this book.
Profile Image for Fran.
980 reviews2 followers
February 18, 2022
This was a delightful, action packed, wonderful children's book. It is set in 1952, during the Cold War, and a group of teenagers, a few adults, and magic stand between the world and an atomic bomb detonating! With memorable characters and a fast paced plot I couldn't put this down.
Profile Image for Sikata.
198 reviews64 followers
November 2, 2022
“To be a kid is to be invisible and to listen, and to interpret things that aren't necessarily meant for you to hear--because how else do you find out about the world?”

The book starts with Janie's parents being labelled as communists in America and fleeing to London where Janie tries to fit in her new English school where Latin is thrust upon her and the only solace is the Latin teacher there. Janie befriends Benjamin who is the local apothecary's son and aspires to be a spy. Now pulled into what seemed to be an innocent stake out by a guy who has made her swoon, Janie lands herself in hot soup and has to figure things out soon. Mysteries unfold and not everyone is as they seem. There's obviously some romance. I wish I had read this book back in school to connect more with it.

The plot was good and an impartial view to the nuclear power is seen. But I would have liked a more of the mystic apothecary works and more details about the pharmacopeia and the organisation. I wanted to know more about Pip. I felt he was dragged into the story whenever the author needed a bridge between events without letting us connect with him. I felt the story was rushed without letting us get insight into all the characters. But then again as an adult I think that's necessary for me but may not be for teens.

Profile Image for Jan (lost pages).
289 reviews66 followers
March 15, 2013

Von Amerika ins langweilige England. Eine drastische Veränderung, die Janie überhaupt nicht gefällt. Noch immer erkennt man die Spuren des Zweiten Weltkrieges, der erst vor wenigen Jahren endete. Warum gerade England? Warum gerade diese öde Schule? Warum gerade Benjamin, der Janie in ein waghalsiges Abenteuer entführt?
Benjamin wäre gerne ein Spion, und aus anfänglichem Spiel und Spaß wird bitterer Ernst, als er von seinem Vater, einem Apotheker, ein Buch in die Hand gedrückt bekommt. Die Pharmacopeia enthält eine Vielzahl von alchemistischem Geheimnissen, das grenzt schon fast an Zauberei! Elixiere, die unsichtbar machen, die einen in Vögel verwandeln können, die einen zwingen die Wahrheit zu sagen...Benjamin und Janie sollen dieses Buch in Sicherheit bringen, denn skrupellose Wissenschaftler und andere dubiose Gestalten lechzen nach dem wertvollen Wissen und haben die Verfolgung bereits aufgenommen.

Bei diesem Buch muss ich einfach ein paar Worte zur Aufmachung loswerden. Ich finde die Gestaltung einfach umwerfend. Das Cover ist wunderschön und die Motive passen allesamt super zur Handlung, aber es geht noch weiter. Jedes neue Kapitel wird durch ein passendes Motiv "eingeleitet", die absolut liebevoll angefertigt wurden. Ein echter optischer Hingucker!

Genug geschwärmt und jetzt wird es ernst...

Tja, aber besonders viel Kritik kann ich euch nicht vorwerfen. Maile Meloy hat einen schönen Jugendroman geschrieben, der besonders die jungen Leser ansprechen soll. Dennoch kann "Elixirium" getrost von "älteren" Leseratten verschlungen werden.

Denn im Gegensatz zu einigen anderen Büchern, die hauptsächlich an die jüngeren Leser gerichtet sind und dementsprechend stilistisch aus- und auffallen, schafft es die Autorin durch einen angenehmen Schreibstil zu überzeugen. Kein nerviger "Jugend-Slang". Ich bin einfach kein Fan davon, auch wenn es die Zielgruppe höchstwahrscheinlich anspricht, aber ich bekomme auf dauer Kopfschmerzen von den ganzen "Ey's" und "Jo's". So war ich glücklich über den flüssig zu lesenden Text! Beschreibungen fallen nicht zu dürftig aus, lassen aber noch Platz für die eigene Fantasie.

Fantasy hat in diesem Buch einen besonderen Platz. Der Klappentext hat sich für mich nicht im geringsten danach angehört, dass die Geschichte Fantasy-Fragmente besitzt. Aber als dann die Pharmacopeia ins Spiel kommt, das Buch hinter dem alle her sind, wird schnell die "Zauberei" sichtbar. So lassen sich kinderleicht Elixiere herstellen, die fantastische Wirkungen zeigen. Es kommt nur auf die Zubereitung an. All dieses Wissen steckt in diesem Schmöker und kann in falschen Händen zu einer enorme Waffe werden.

Aber erst einmal gerät das Buch in die Hände von Janie und Benjamin....und damit startet das Abenteuer der beiden. Janie ist die Protagonistin, aus deren Sicht wir das Abenteuer geschildert bekommen. Ich mochte sie ziemlich gerne, weil sie ein aufgewecktes Mädchen ist. Für ihre vierzehn Jahre verhält sie sich oftmals schon etwas reifer, aber das fällt nie negativ auf oder wirkt gar gestellt. Benjamin, als Gegenpart, konnte mich ebenfalls überzeugen. Besonders das Zusammenspiel der beiden ist oft zum Schmunzeln, denn schnell wird klar, die beiden mögen sich und zeigen das auf gelegentlich unbeholfene Weise. Wir waren ja alle Mal vierzehn!
Mein Liebling ist aber Pip. Pip ist ein kleiner Halunke und Straßendieb, der sich dem Duo anschließt. Mehr als einmal musste ich über seine lustige Art lachen und er bringt durch sein lockeres Auftreten richtig Schwung in die Geschichte!
Im Großen und Ganzen kann man sagen, dass die Charaktere die Geschichte tragen, aber nicht besonders tiefgründig wirken - tut dem Buch aber auch keinen großen Abbruch.

Die Handlung bleibt ab einem gewissen Punkt schwungvoll und rasant und zieht dieses Tempo auch bis kurz vor Ende durch. Die Nachkriegszeit als "dezent" aufblitzender Hintergrund, verleiht der Geschichte einen besonderen Flair. Lediglich die letzten Seiten, nach dem "Showdown" konnten mich nicht so überzeugen. Auch die dramatische "Explosion" im Finale ist in meinen Augen etwas ZU groß und wirkt schon sehr unglaubwürdig. Nichtsdestotrotz bin ich gut unterhalten worden!

"Elixirium" bietet aufregenden, kurzweiligen Lesespaß, und ist in erster Linie an junge Leser gerichtet. Das soll aber nicht die "ausgewachsenen" Leser davon abhalten, sich von Maile Meloys Geschichte verzaubern zu lassen. Wer auf eine spaßige, abenteuerliche Handlung steht, kann mit "Elixirium" sehr wohl seine Freude haben. Abgesehen von der fehlenden Charaktertiefe und den "unnötigen" Abschlussseiten, bin ich bestens unterhalten worden! Ich vergebe 4/5 möglichen Punkten!
Profile Image for Grace.
26 reviews
March 21, 2017
Because I have been watching Fullmetal Alchemist I have been trying to find some good books that include alchemy. So I picked up the Apothecary which said included some alchemic like action. After reading it found that the book was geared towards younger readers. The story also takes place around the cold war and the races to build atomic bombs. Other than that there was really no historical element that I found. I would say the alchemic magic was interesting and was the only thing that kept me interested.

Janie came off to me as a very generic character. I categorized her in loyal, nice, and curious which can be good traits, but they were not written well. She had no deeper level and the most emotion that I got from her was that she missed home and her parents. Being an american in London she felt like she did stick out when she first went to school and besides turing into an american robin it was she forgot all about it. She just had no depth, and that made her really boring.

Benjamin was a better character. He was funny, daring, and always had something up his sleeve. He was less boring than Janie though still not that good. Always wanting to be a spy came off as a childish dream, but he did more then just a nosey three year old. Still he was not that good. He lacked a lot of depth, but his character traits were more interesting.

The plot was not the best. It was a little too dry. Sometimes it moved to fast and left some parts unexplained and other times it was too slow and needed something to move it along. One of the most intriguing things about it was it’s alchemy. Turning people into salt then returning them back into human was a good element. There were other parts that seemed to forced though. The major one was school. Yes, we know they are students and that they still need to go to school and skipping school would be a bad example, but when you are being hunted down by the government and your dad is missing or dead school does not seem like a top priority. Characters also seemed forced in their as well. One character came in as a teacher, but then he turned into a spy. That particular transition was really rough and had back ground, but could have gone a lot smoother.

Like I said in the beginning, the book is geared towards younger readers. I would not recommend it to any big young adult readers, but I would recommend it to younger children or people who like children’s books.

Hope you keep reading!
Profile Image for Minli.
359 reviews
July 6, 2011
The Apothecary is, by all accounts, a book that sounds up my alley. It's 1952, and Jane's parents move their family from Hollywood to London, England in order to escape the Red Scare. Jane enrolls in a school and meets a mysterious apothecary and his son, gets tangled up in magic and adventure and la. Benjamin, the son, really wants to be a spy, but his dad wants nothing more to than for him to follow in his footsteps. But when the apothecary is kidnapped and cryptic, threatening messages are left behind, Jane and Benjamin have to get to the bottom of all this. At least to Ben, being "just" an apothecary suddenly got way more interesting...

Maile Meloy's writing is lovely. You can tell she comes from an MFA background, which isn't a knock at all. I like her soft, smooth prose. However, I will hazard a guess that this is her first time writing children's fiction (especially children's FANTASY), because there were lots of moments where I felt she didn't give enough credit to the reader. In my humble opinion, children are some of the most curious people in the world... they'll gloss over weird plot holes if the characters and action are compelling, maybe. Jane and Benjamin were all right--both of them are on the quieter side, but to be honest, I preferred the much more vibrant Sarah and Pip! Still, it's hard to ignore the big question: "how does this [transfiguration, potion, bomb containment] really work?"

Also, the ending felt a bit cheated. I hated those "and it was all a dream, then she woke up" endings as a kid, and this was only marginally better than that.
Profile Image for Liz Friend.
970 reviews82 followers
January 26, 2015
The story: Janie’s family has just moved from beautiful Hollywood to dark, gray London, which is still a mess after World War II. Life stinks until she meets Benjamin—a boy with kind of a smart mouth who wants to become a spy. When Benjamin’s father, a mysterious apothecary, is kidnapped, he and Janie must uncover the magical secrets of his father’s book of poisons and spells while trying to keep it out of the hands of his father’s enemies...and at the same time, trying to keep the atomic bomb out of the hands of the Russians. Time is against them...can they find a way to alter it?

June Cleaver's ratings: Language G; Nudity G; Sexual Content G; Violence PG; Substance Abuse G; GLBT themes G; magic & the occult PG; adult themes PG (McCarthyism and Communism); overall rating G.

Liz's comments: I thought this story was charming. Its lack of bad words, its plain contrasts between good guys (yay democracy!) and bad guys (boo Communism!) and its 1950s depictions of life in LA and London reminded me a lot of books from when I was a kid. Add a dose of magic and mystery, and you've got a winner...if you can convince a kid to read it. Don't know why, but historical fiction is truly a hard sell at middle school.

Annotation with spoilers: Janie's mom and dad, script writers, have made Senator McCarthy's list and have to move to London to find work. Janie's unhappy to be missing her 8th grade year in Hollywood, especially since she's trading LA for bombed-out 1952 London, which is grey and depressing. Soon after arriving at St. Beden's school, she meets Benjamin Burrows, the son of the apothecary (pharmacist) whose store is around the corner from their flat. He invites her to play chess at the park with him the following Saturday; she goes thinking it's a date, but he's there to keep an eye on Mr. Shiskin, father of one of their schoolmates, whom he thinks is spying for the Russians (the Cold War is the reality of the day). He sees the man pass something to--his own father! They retrieve the ripped-up note that his father trashes, and see that "Jin-Lo as been taken" and that the apothecary is next. What does that mean?

They are in the back, asking his father for answers, when men come into the shop. (Particularly noticeable is a man with an evil-looking scar on his face.) Mr. Burrows quickly hides them in a cellar room with a valuable antique book, telling them to keep the Pharmacopaeia safe--but before they re-emerge, he's kidnapped. The kids, looking at the book he's left behind, recognize a symbol on it and head off to the Chelsea Physic Garden. Here they meet the caretaker, who gives them valuable information about the Pharmacopaeia--a book full of recipes for potions that can transform the users into birds, make them invisible, etc. The kids don't believe the part about the magical potions until they try one--a truth serum that makes Janie admit she has a crush on Benjamin, while he confesses to liking Sarah Pennington, one of the cool girls at school. Both are pretty embarrassed by the admission, but they know the potion works now, so they decide to try the recipe for Truth Serum on Sergei's father, to get him to tell what he knows about Mr. Burrows' disappearance.

After spilling the truth serum, they get the info that the Shiskins' house is bugged, that scar-face is part of the Stasi secret police, that the old gardener is in danger, and that Mr. Shiskin is working with Benjamin's father and two other scientists, one of them called Jin-Lo. They are all supposed to meet in two days' time, and if the others don't show up, it will go badly for Shiskin. He refuses to tell them anything else, and takes a silence potion to make sure he doesn't.

Now worried about their gardener friend, they hurry back to Chelsea, but it's too late--the old man has been stabbed. But he's left them a letter, and a vial of potion for themselves. He instructs them to keep the book safe, but that they must also rescue Benjamin's father.

At this time, Janie's parents leave to go to the country to complete a work assignment, leaving her in the care of their landlady (very convenient). Mr. Danby, a kindly teacher at school, asks Janie why she looks so tired, and she tells him about the book. Little does she know that he's a spy for the Russians, sent into the school to keep an eye on Benjamin, and she's just played into his hands. Next thing they know, a couple of uniformed policemen show up in class, and Benjamin barely has time to pass Sergei the book before the cops haul them off to juvenile detention for questioning. Before that can happen, though, a smart kid from the next cell, Pip, helps them escape. The three kids use the vial sent by the murdered man at the Chelsea Garden and turn themselves into birds. They follow the bad guys to an old WW2 bunker, where the men disappear and the kids turn back into themselves. Looks like Danby is a double agent: working for the British Foreign Service headquartered in the bunker, but spying for the Russians.

The kids decide they'll need the invisibility potion in order to get inside, where they think the boys' fathers are being held. They head back to the school (where Cockney Pip sees and instantly falls in love with the rich and snooty Sarah Pennington), retrieve the book from Sergei, and break into the chemistry lab. However, when they concoct the potion, they soon find out it only works on skin--the three of them (the third one being Pip, not Sergei) have to be naked for it to cover them completely. It's pretty cold outside, but their dads' freedom has to be worth it. Right? They see Danby and follow him back to the bunker; invisible, they go inside and see him speak to a Chinese prisoner who turns out to be Jin-Lo, another apothecary from China. She uses a smoke potion to get them out of the bunker (they steal some clothes on their way), and they make their way back to the apothecary's shop so she can have a look around. As they do, she discovers a pile of salt that is evidently Benjamin's father, water removed and reduced to his constituent chemicals. Jin-Lo reconstitutes him, and they have to use a temporary blinding powder to escape from Danby and Scar, who show up on their heels.

They need to pick some plants from the Chelsea Garden at daybreak, so they end up hiding there overnight, while Mr. Burrows fills them in on the history of the Pharmacopaeia, which originated centuries ago as a book of recipes for healing potions, but which also ended up housing recipes that turned out rather...differently...than expected. After the war, Benjamin's father began using his knowledge of the potions and his expertise as an apothecary to figure out a way to collect the radiation of an atomic bomb after it was released. Jin-Lo's part was to contribute a fine net that would reel itself in, containing the particles and sucking them in on themselves (kind of like a black hole).

To concoct his potion, the Apothecary needs blooms from a tree that isn't in flower now, so he uses his powers to force the tree to bloom out of season. As he does, a dark cloud is released, which he calls Dark Force, and there's a hint it might come back later. It appears to somehow be sentient, even though it's amorphous and cloud-like. He manages to get three blooms and preserve them to use for his potion, and next they're on their way to Nova Zembla, an island in the Norwegian Sea where the Russians are planning a nuclear test. When the apothecary shuts down the idea of the kids' accompanying him and his colleagues on the trip, the kids (sort of) bring Sarah Pennington into their plans to sneak on board ship while invisible. Sarah provides them with cold weather gear, and they get on board to find Sergei's father, whose family has been taken hostage by the Russians and are being threatened with execution if Shiskin doesn't lead the Russians to the ship via radio transmissions. When the truth comes out, Shiskin is allowed to give the signal to preserve his family, but the boat is painted via alchemy and therefore in disguise when the Russians arrive.

The ship arrives at the island, and once again, the kids turn themselves into birds--but this time, Janie is captured by Danby while Benjamin, coming back to try to help her, turns back into a human and falls out of the sky into the freezing cold water. Janie convinces the bad guys to rescue him, just as the atomic bomb goes off. The Dark Force makes a reappearance and causes their helicopter to crash, but the potion prepared by the alchemists works and re-absorbs the shock and radiation of the atomic bomb. The bad guys are captured.

At the end, Janie and Pip are given a potion that erases memories, just before Benjamin and his father disappear, taking her diary with them. For the next year, she can't understand why people are asking her about Benjamin--who's he? But then, when her diary is mysteriously returned in the mail, she comes to a remembrance of the events via its pages, and comes to know that in the future, she and Benjamin will probably have further adventures together. (Sequel is "The Apprentices".)

4 reviews1 follower
September 20, 2017
Imagine you are uprooted to unfamiliar country, and thrown into an unfamiliar world of magic, secrecy, and strangely, nuclear physics. In Malie Meloy’s The Apothecary, it’s 1952 and Janie Scott is enjoying life in sunny Los Angeles until she is tailed by government agents one day after school. After learning this, her parents got spooked and moved the family immediately to gray, cold and dreary London, a change she’s not too happy about, considering her lack of friends, horrid classmates, and of course, dreaded Latin class. From being taunted by Sarah Pennington to sitting alone at lunch, Janie has had enough of this so-called “adventure,” as her mom puts it. She feels like a thorn among roses, surrounded by Englishmen, with her American hair and accent. But then, she stumbles into Benjamin Burrows, son of the apothecary in town. Ben longs to be a secret agent, and rejects his father’s plan for him - to continue the family business. Ben and Janie quickly bond over chess matches in the park and secret spy sessions on men who Ben is convinced are German spies. That is until Ben’s father is kidnapped by a group of Germans, causing Janie and him race across London trying to decipher the apothecary’s ancient book called the Pharmacopoeia, full of experiments and elixirs that can do anything, from making people invisible to stopping atomic bombs. Ben and Janie, joined by a pickpocket named Pip, set out to find Ben’s dad and keep the Pharmacopoeia from those who would do anything to get their hands on it. This was a terrific book that I completely recommend because of the author's use of its characterization to enhance the plot and add an in depth aspect to the story.

Part of what made this book great was its fantastic characterization with the development of Jamie, Ben, Pip, and Mr. Shiskin and Mr. Danby. Jamie, for example, grew from an angry and lost teen to a strong, compassionate and resilient heroine after she is thrown into a fight against Russian spies in a post World War II setting. Meloy demonstrated this change to show a heroine who is able to adapt to whatever is thrown at her, and contributing to helping save Ben’s dad, the apothecary. Janie’s stubbornness when her family moves quickly changes to strength when the apothecary is kidnapped and Ben recruits her help to find him. Janie also continues to demonstrates compassion, even when it gets her into trouble. For example, the scene where they discover that Shiskin is a double agent, they lock him up and Janie is sent to talk to him. She feels empathetic for the double agent because he is forced to work against them because his family is being held hostage. Janie decides to remove Shiskin's handcuffs so he can radio the Germans so they would not kill his family. However, this show of compassion did not work in Janie’s favor for Shiskin attacks her and threatens her life unless the apothecary releases him. Fortunately, Benjamin rescues her and Shiskin is locked back up. Janie’s characterization is an important part of the book because it shows how a strong heroine can form and help others.

Ben’s characterization demonstrates someone who is forced to grow up very quickly, after being thrown into immediate danger, and set on the task to find his missing father while trying to figure out the legacy he left he left behind. At first, Ben wants nothing to do with the apothecary business, until his dad is kidnapped and Ben is forced to pick up his work to find him, including turning invisible and shape shifting themselves into birds. Ben is very skeptical at first of the apothecary’s work, believing that is it simple just giving people recipes for common colds and hot water bottles. However, when the apothecary is kidnapped, Ben discovers that his father’s work was not what it seemed. Ben always dreamed of being a spy, and following in his father’s footsteps came pretty close to that. Ben changes his belief in his father’s work at the end of the book, and chooses to follow his father into hiding to continue their work. Ben is clever and decisive and stays that way throughout the book, the only real change was his new belief in what his father was doing. For example, when Janie, Ben and Pip were trying to escape from Mr. Danby and the Germans, Janie suggested they use the bird elixir that the apothecary gave them. However, Ben was skeptical at first, stating his beliefs that it would not work successfully, because it was impossible. However, he soon changed his mind, drank the elixir, and Janie, Ben and Pip escaped. Ben’s change in character helped to show that not everything is as its seems, and that you should always take a second look at thing you initially dismiss.

The most unusual character was most definitely Pip, a pickpocket who Ben and Janie pick up when they are arrested by the police. Pip escapes with them and joins their mission when he drinks the elixir and turns into a bird with Ben and Janie. This characterization of a loyal “criminal” who provides valuable help to their mission, such as distracting the cops when Ben and Janie were trying to stowaway on a ship to follow the apothecary. This demonstrates that people can change, and the most unsuspecting people can prove the most useful. The only thing that was off about Pip was that he immediately believed Ben and Janie and tagged along with their mission. It is doubtful that someone would risk their lives for someone without question, in fact I suspected Pip to be a spy for the duration of the entire book (he’s not).

The final example of excellent characterization were the two main villains, Shiskin and Mr. Danby. Shiskin was the double agent who betrayed the Apothecary because the Russian threatened to kill his family. His betrayal was one of the most important plot twists because showed that you should be careful who you trust, as well as the fact that people are forced into difficult situation, and will always act to save the ones they love. Meloy’s use of Mr. Danby was Janie’s latin teacher at her new school, and was at first a warm, welcoming ally. However, that soon changed when Danby revealed his true colors, that he was actually working with the Russians, and would stop at nothing for his plans to succeed. The characterization of Danby shows that sometimes, those who you think are helping you are really hurting you, such as when Danby left Janie out to die during the testing of the nuclear bomb. The characterization of these villains helped show important themes throughout the book.

Throughout this book, Malie Meloy’s characterization and use of descriptive language throughout the book helped enhance and liven up the plot. This was a very fun read for me, and I have actually already begun reading the sequel. I enjoyed this book and it's many twist and turns, including its elements of magic and history. I would have enjoyed it more if the characterization of Pip had gone more in depth, and if Meloy had slowed down the ending a little big, instead of rushing to finish the book. However, Meloy’s writing is clear and effective, while also being descriptive and interesting. I have and will continue to recommend this book to others, based on its interesting story line and strong and admirable characters. This book is for young adults, and I read a lot of books in that fall into that category, so you could say that I was the target audience for this book. However, I will recommend this book to all ages, younger or older. Therefore, The Apothecary by Malie Meloy is a wonderful book for all ages, full of fantastic characters and a great story line.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Najla.
69 reviews12 followers
May 2, 2021
A wonderful story tied to the Cold War era, the characters are brilliantly developed and written. You fall in love with Janie and Benjamin early on and stay connected with them. It’s YA and perhaps it’s part coming of age, part curiosity and part youthful hope that keeps it all moving and connected.
17 reviews
December 8, 2017
In the book, The Apothecary by Maile Meloy, 14 years old Janie Scott moved to London from Los Angles and met the apothecary and his son Benjamin. One day, the apothecary was kidnapped by the Soviet and he gave Benjamin his ancient book the Pharmacopoeia and told him to protect it from the people who want to take it. Benjamin and Janie used the magic from the book and found the apothecary, but all of them are chased by the Soviet because the apothecary is trying to stop a powerful bomb from the Soviet with the knowledge on the book. At last, the apothecary and the children went on a boat to an island and successfully stopped the bomb before it destroys the city. The book talks about courage when facing your enemies and never gives up.
Profile Image for Tina Hoggatt.
922 reviews3 followers
January 14, 2012
The Apothecary by Maile Meloy, a middle grade novel, can be read by all ages for its fine drawing of history along with meditations on family, war, power, freedom and the threat of nuclear weapons. If this seems heavy freight for adolescents be assured that these deeper themes are carried along by adventure, budding romance and magic.

Janie Scott, the daughter of two successful Hollywood writers is wrenched from her comfortable life in 1952 Los Angeles when her parents take a job writing for BBC television. In brief scenes we know the ease and pleasures of Los Angeles, and are introduced to the paranoia and destructiveness of Joseph McCarthy's State Department investigation into communism, the impetus for the family's move. Arriving in London to a cold, cramped flat, Janie records her impressions of her new life in her diary and reacts with typical adolescent resentment to the changes she experiences. On her first day in London she meets the Apothecary of the title, who runs London's version of a neighborhood pharmacy, supplies the family with hot water bottles and gives Janie a remedy for homesickness that seems to work.

In her new school Janie meets Benjamin Burrows, the Apothecary's son, who has lost his mother to a German bomb during the Blitz and who refuses to "duck and cover" for a nuclear bomb drill. The two become friends. Benjamin would rather be a spy than dispense prescriptions like his father, and the two stumble upon Cold War espionage when they observe suspicious meetings in the park and discover that Benjamin's father is not what he appears. No spy, he has alchemical powers and harbors secrets that place them all in danger. When he disappears, entrusting an ancient book of spells and transformative elixirs to Benjamin, the reader and Janie are swept up in a journey of mystery and suspense that could end in the world's annihilation. With magical transformations, a pickpocket, murder, and the race to contain the power of nuclear bombs through physics and magic (and what is physics if not magic?), Janie, Benjamin and a host of well drawn and engaging characters are propelled through laboratories, capture and flight until they end up in the Arctic aboard an icebreaker with everything at stake. The resolution is surprising, suspenseful and tender, and left me hoping for a second book with these characters. I loved the magic and the very real relationship Meloy establishes.

Huzzah for the resurgence of illustrated books. The lovely drawings by Ian Schoenherr carry the story forward. A gorgeous book in the hand, compulsively readable and beautifully written.
Profile Image for Abria Mattina.
Author 5 books184 followers
July 27, 2011
I received an ARE of The Apothecary by Maile Meloy during a visit to the Penguin offices in New York. At first I put off reading it because I didn't feel tugged by the jacket synopsis, but once I started reading I couldn't put it down. This was one of those rare books that made me say, "Just one more chapter before bed...Okay, one more...Last one, I swear."

What I liked about The Apothecary from the very beginning was the voice of first person narrator Janie Scott. She’s witty, intelligent, and she sounds like a realistic fourteen year old. I often find teenage protagonists flat or too juvenile, especially if they’re in their early teens, but Meloy writes Janie with a relatable, appropriate narrative voice.

Also refreshing is male protagonist Benjamin Burrows, son of the apothecary and friend (and partner in crime) to Janie. In recent years, YA of this genre has been loaded to the brim with attractive-beyond-words, mysterious bad boy love interests. Benjamin is just the opposite, and that’s incredibly refreshing. Instead of being withdrawn and mysterious, he’s outspoken and determined. He isn’t inaccessible to the heroine—except for the fact that they have some pretty big problems to solve that trump the pursuit of a romantic relationship, at least for now. There are, of course, things that Janie does not know about Benjamin, but their organically developing relationship reveals their pasts, their hopes and aspirations naturally.

Pip, a pickpocket and guttersnipe, has some of the best lines in the book. He is so distinct from every other character, so cocky and glib, that he infuses levity into an otherwise nerve-wracking adventure/mystery. And best of all, he has his place and does not stray from it. Meloy doesn't drag Pip into scenes where his unique brand of humor would seem out of place, such as during tense climactic drama. Some authors might be tempted to allow secondary characters like Pip to overstep their roles and overshadow the main characters, and I applaud Meloy for not doing so.

I really hope that this is the start of a series. The ending allows for an extension of the plot to further novels while still satisfying the reader, and I certainly wouldn't mind reading more about the adventures of Janie Scott and Benjamin Burrows, particularly if Pip comes along.
Profile Image for Lisa Nocita.
1,010 reviews2 followers
June 29, 2012
Jane is uprooted from her California home when her parents, screenwriters, decide to leave the country rather than face the McCarthy era witch hunt for communists and communist sympathizers. They go to London. That Jane is initially dismayed by the idea is an understatement, but soon her new life takes some crazy and unpredictable turns that lead her on a wild adventure filled with spies and alchemy fit for the big screen.

"We were on a nuclear test site with an untested antidote. The Soviet Navy was looking for us in submarines and spy planes, and my parents were frantic with worry, but there was nowhere else I wanted to be. There is still, to this day, nowhere I would rather have had the first kiss of my life." (p. 289)

The Apothecary is set post war World War II, mid 1950's, during the buildup of the cold war with Russia as the United States and Russia were hell bent on amassing weapons of mass destruction, fueling the nuclear arms race that would follow. Meloy crafts a tale set against this historical backdrop that seeks to offer a better version of humanity, one not hell-bent on its own destruction.

The writing is appealing. There is a lot of action and adventure, a little magic, and romance. There are also a few references to great literature, including a crafty and clever pickpocket named Pip. Having lived through the nuclear hype of the 80's, the theme certainly appealed to me though I wonder if it will have less of an impact on young readers for whom that danger doesn't seem nearly so imminent? There is nothing really objectionable, but I fear this might not be the best read aloud because there are a couple of scenes where the protagonists are decorously naked and in close proximity to one another. But the worst that happens is that they bump elbows. Still, might make middle schoolers titter. However, a read aloud would be the best chance of getting wide circulation in my opinion.

Profile Image for Barb Middleton.
1,691 reviews124 followers
February 14, 2012
Janie’s parents are writers who are blacklisted as Communists during the McCarthy era, 1952. The family flees LA to live in London where Janie starts midyear at a new school. The city is still scarred from WWII where chocolate and a nice apartment are hard to come by. When Janie makes friends with the Apothecary’s son, Benjamin, she gets swept up in a mystery (and fantasy) as the two try to figure out who kidnapped his father and why.

The author does a great job with character development using unique voices and engaging personalities. Notice how Sarah Pennington is described and the dialogue of the parents who love to joke, the Russian boy’s father’s, the Chinese woman’s and poor boy’s speech; each is distinct from the others. The novel is historical but shifts after page 50 to mystery and fantasy. The plot has some nice twists such as the not-so-obvious villian. The plot also raises some questions such as why the gardener was killed or why the good guys were going for “containment” versus just stopping the villians. I’m being vague here because I don’t want to give away the ending. Plus, Sarah helping the kids because she liked Pip just didn’t seem plausible to me. And the kids running around naked (but invisible) in London in February was unbelievable as well, but I don’t think most readers will care about these minor questions. The pacing is good and action fun.

The violence in the story involves a murder, kids being attacked, and a man holding a pistol to a girl’s head. There is kissing and a little romance between Sarah and Pip and Janie and Benjamin. They are all too busy saving the world for much to happen between them. Come at the story as a fantasy not historical novel and the unbelieveable parts shouldn’t get in the way of this enjoyable story.
Profile Image for Vikki VanSickle.
Author 12 books200 followers
August 27, 2013
The mix of Cold War drama and old-school alchemy is unusual but totally works. The spunk and energy of Meloy’s prose feels very old-fashioned (hence the Nancy Drew comp) and yet her relationships feel modern. Janie is a delightful protagonist, a smart girl who prefers pants to skirts and is doing her best to keep her feelings for her partner in crime hidden. This becomes exceedingly difficult in a particularly memorable scene in which Janie and Benjamin test a truth serum by asking each other who they like. As you can imagine, the excruciatingly awkward scene that follows is classic middle grade.

There is a murder fairly early on in the book, and instead of being a convenient catalyst or plot device, both Janie and Ben are thrown by the crime. In very action-packed adventure stories often heinous crimes happen and the characters move on fairly unscathed emotionally, though perhaps determined to avenge/seek justice for the crime. In The Apothecary a good deal of time and thought is given to Janie’s emotional reaction to the murder. The mystery isn’t purely fun- it’s a matter of life and death. I appreciated how Meloy dipped into her character’s emotional reactions to the events and considered the logistics of being an adventurer (do you call the police? How do you tell your parents, who you love, that you’re heading to Russia in bird-form to stop a nuclear disaster?)
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