Genre: middle grade fantastical historical fiction
Length: 353 pages
Setting: London, 1952
Font: Adobe Caslon
Interest: I chose it for our American History Club meeting on the Cold War (even though it’s set in London).
Summary: Janie’s parents have to suddenly move from Hollywood to London, before their passports are confiscated for potentially being Communists. Life is much different in London, with rationing still apparent and lots of buildings still damaged from bombing. Janie also doesn’t fit in at her school. She makes friends with Benjamin Burrows. He’s the son of the local apothecary, but he aspires to a much more exciting profession, like being a spy. Things get more exciting when the East Germans come after the Pharmacologie Benjamin’s father holds. Turns out, the Pharmacologie contains alchemist recipes to do magical transformations. Mr. Burrows is involved with several other alchemists to develop a method to contain an atomic bomb explosion, but the Russians are trying to stop them. With the kids’ help, they travel by ship into Russian waters to a test explosion of the latest version of atomic bomb and successfully contain the atomic blast.
Final thoughts: All of us enjoyed this book. I was impressed how much of the culture and feeling associated with the Cold War this book was able to show. The family had to move because of McCarthyism. London was still on rationing, almost a decade after the war. The Russians were suspect. Watch out for nuclear bombs (and hide under your desk or table when it comes – that will certainly save you! Benjamin came to Janie’s attention when he refused to hide under a table during a bomb drill at school.) And, on top of that, you have an exciting story with a hint of magic. At one point, the kids are turned into birds that represent their characters. The kids at American History Club and I had fun trying to decide what kind of bird we’d turn into. I was a little disappointed at the end (Janie and another boy who helped out both had their memory wiped). It seemed a little trite, but perhaps it’s dealt with in the next book in the series.
Title comes from: The main characters get drawn into the action at the Apothecary owned by Mr. Burrows.
Reading challenges fulfilled: #34 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge
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