What You Need to Know:|
• An American girl moves to London in 1952 and becomes involved in a plot to save the world from nuclear weapons.
• Communism and the ramifications of war are an intricate part of the story.
• The kids lie to their parents and the police in order to continue on their adventure.
• Some scientific language is used to explain concepts like freezing time, turning into birds, and the differences
between atomic and hydrogen bombs.
• An innocent romance, including a first kiss, develops between the main characters.
• There is some violence and fighting, including one stabbing and death witnessed by the kids.
• Alcohol (an old landlady smells of gin) is briefly mentioned.
Some books seem to linger in your mind longer than others. They elicit a deeper connection with the characters, raise questions for readers and encourage more thought on the conflicts or events. That’s definitely the case with The Apothecary. Filled with magical elements, it is also rooted in reality. It takes place during a complicated time in world history, when there is a pervasive fear of Communism, war and nuclear weapons. Fourteen year-old Janie Scott and her television-writer parents are right in the midst of it all. Suspected of being Communists, they are forced to leave their happy life in Los Angeles and seek safety in London. There they find a city still coping with the effects of the War. Luxury items are scarce, ration cards are being used and the signs of conflict can be seen in the damaged buildings. Janie feels lonely and homesick, and she’s convinced she’ll never fit in here. That is until she meets Benjamin Burrows, the son of the local apothecary.
Their connection and the events surrounding it, change her life. Janie and Benjamin team up to rescue Benjamin’s missing father, and later, to save the world from nuclear destruction. In the process, they witness an impaled man take his last breath, they’re chased by government spies, they end up in jail and they sneak aboard a boat heading for Russia. Often solving problems created by the adults around them, Janie and Benjamin never give up their fight, even as they encounter staggering obstacles and come close to death several times. They do get a little help along the way from their feisty, new friends, Pip and Sarah, and the apothecary’s Pharmacopoeia, which introduces them to mysterious potions that turn them into birds and make them invisible.
There are some big scientific and political concepts to grasp in this story, but they are addressed in an appropriate way and are explained fairly well. Relationships between friends, family members, co-workers, and countries are also explored. The characters discover how easy it is to misjudge people, like the handsome teacher who is really a bad guy, the unapproachable rich girl, Sarah, who actually comes to their aid and the worthless hoodlum, Pip, who turns out to be loyal, smart and selfless. They share thoughts about their families and what it means to ignore, disobey and even lie to their parents. They think about the senselessness and consequences of war, and the ethics of using science and potions to interfere with nature. As Janie and Benjamin spend more time together, an innocent romance develops, but Janie remains modest as she finds herself in sticky situations like when they need to bathe naked in order to make the invisibility potion work or when Benjamin needs a place to sleep and she lets him stay on the floor in her room. The occasional black and white illustrations blend seamlessly with the text and are a nice compliment to the story.
2011, 368 pages
Adventure, Ethics, Fantasy, Friendship, Government, Magic, War
• Is it right for the Apothecary and other scientists to interfere with nature as they do? Why or why not?
• Why do countries feel they need a weapon in order to achieve peace?
• How would you feel about moving to another country?
• Is it okay to steal from the rich to give to the poor? Why or why not?
• How would it have been possible to use the different potions for both good and evil?
• Have you known anyone who acted like a friend, but turned out to be an enemy? Or the other way around?
• Do you think that Janie and Benjamin end up together in the end?
• What does it mean to be a communist? Were Janie’s parents communists?
• What do you want to be when you grow up? Would you want to follow in your parents’ footsteps?
This recommendation was written by: