“The Apothecary” by Maile Meloy, Her Young Adult Novel

“The Apothecary” by Maile Meloy (2011) – 353 pages

“The Apothecary” is the new young adult magical adventure novel by Maile Meloy.  So far I had read three of Meloy’s adult realistic novels and story collections and have been much impressed with her work.  Her last story collection “Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It” – love that title! – made my best of the year list for 2009.  If I like an author’s work in one genre, I will read their work in another genre, because literary talent is literary talent. 

 “The Apothecary” is about a band of early teens involved in a fantastic and magical adventure in England. Does that sound familiar?  If one were cynical, one might think that Meloy is going for the Harry Potter market now that Harry Potter is winding down.

 In these magical adventure stories, one of the main things a writer must do is establish the main character’s credibility early on so that when the events turn extraordinary the reader accepts them.  As “The Apothecary” begins, our hero (or heroine) Janie is living with her screenwriter parents near Hollywood in 1952.  This was the time when the House Un-American Activities Committee was holding hearings into alleged communist propaganda and influence in Hollywood. Many friends of Janie’s parents were being forced to testify against others in the movie industry, many of whom would then be blacklisted.   Janie’s parents were worried that they would soon be called to testify and might even lose their own passports, so before that happens they relocate to England.   This is all realistic, since many actual Hollywood careers were destroyed and families were dislocated by the House Un-American Activities Committee.  This back story establishes the credibility of our main character Janie for what is to follow.   

  At first Janie feels like a fish out of water attending her English grammar school St. Bedens, but she soon becomes friends with a boy in her class named Benjamin whose father is an apothecary or, in American-ese, a druggist.  Benjamin’s father has a special book called the Pharmacopoeia. 

There follows a story of spies and counter-spies and international intrigue and magic.  There is even a sly boy named Pip who is borrowed from Charles Dickens.

 Young adult adventure stories are not my usual reading fare.  I’ve never read any Harry Potter, so I really can’t judge how this story compares.  All I can say is that the characters in “The Apothecary” are well developed and there is always some wild occurrence going on in the story to hold my interest.  I prefer Maile Meloy’s much different adult work, so if you want to get a real evaluation of “The Apothecary”,  you may have to ask a fourteen year old to read it and ask her or him for an evaluation.

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