Search This Blog

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy (Once Upon a Time)

The Apothecary is a book for young readers, but like all good books, it is a story that appeals to all ages.  A fantasy with some important and often neglected history mixed in, the novel begins with a move from the U.S. to London for fourteen-year-old Janie Scott.

Janie's parents are screen writers in 1952 during the time of the Hollywood Black Lists.  When Janie's family comes under surveillance, her parents know that if they are called to testify, they would be asked to name names, putting an end to many careers.  They decide to move to London where they have been offered a job working on a television series about Robin Hood.

(By the by, this period in our history is a shameful one that really does deserve more attention.   Many innocent people were denied the right of the First Amendment and lost their jobs during the McCarthy witch hunts.   John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Danny Kaye were among those who protested and formed The Organization for the First Amendment. )

Back to the novel, Janie is very unhappy with her parents about this move (something I could identify with as a move at that age brought out the worst in me and drove my poor parents crazy).  She misses her old school and her friends; she must attend a new school as the odd-man out.  She even has difficulty understanding the English -- same language, different pronunciation.

She does make a new friend, however, in Benjamin Burrows, son of the local apothecary.  The Cold War is at its height, the Russians are the enemy, the "duck and dive" mentality is the useless caution against nuclear warfare, spies are everywhere for both the good guys and the bad guys, and treasonous activities occur.

 Janie and Benjamin become involved in an adventure neither could have imagined, complete with spies, kidnappings, and magic.

I'm not going to tell you any more, but I am going to send you to Nan's review (Letters from a Hill Farm) because her review is the reason I checked out this book.

I have already Googled a bunch of sites on the Hollywood Blacklist and the House of  Un-American Activities Committee and plan to eventually do some nonfiction reading about this period.  Although this is background material only for the novel, and I've read some in this area before, my interest has increased.

Fiction. Fantasy/YA.  2011.  353 pages.


  1. well that went on my wish list! lol.. if you are interested in the time of the black listing you might want to read: Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Holllywood Ten
    by Edward Dmytryk
    Dmytryk was a director of movies and one of those they blacklisted. I knew of him because he directed my friend DeForest Kelley in some small westerns and we discussed that time. That whole time of black listing was quite something!

    btw I liked your review of this book and i put it on my wish list lol..many stories are based on truth!!

  2. Interesting. I just finished a book about a 13-year-old girl moving to England under protest. That's where the similarities end. Mine's a ghost story. Your book sounds like a good read. I agree, this country needs to be more informed about that era in our history.

  3. DesLily - Yes, I saw Dmytryk's name frequently in articles since he was one of the Hollywood Ten. I'm adding this memoir to my list--nothing like a first-hand account!

    Framed - I like ghost stories; I'll have to check out your review! Yes, The Apothecary is an interesting read for several reasons.

  4. Oh, wasn't it just wonderful!! Did I tell you she is the sister of Colin Meloy of the Decemberists? And she has written a couple adult books, which I just saw the other day at the library.
    (thank you for the link to my post!)

  5. Here's hoping my library has this book. The more I read the more I realize I don't know which makes me want to read more and learn more. If I had a better memory it would help. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention, Jenclair.

  6. Nan - Thank you for the recommendation. I'm going to have to check out her other books--a talented family!

    booklogged - One book just keeps leading to another!

  7. Definitely a very interesting period to read about and like you say it doesn't really have much coverage.
    Thanks for a really interesting review.
    Lynn :D

  8. I could have sworn I said something but maybe I just read this review on the iPad and didn't comment. It sounds like an interesting book. I'm crazy about the cover!

  9. :) I love the cover. I'm so easily influenced!