books and cleverness

I read books of all sorts, but mostly kids' lit and young adult literature and speculative fiction for all ages—usually from a feminist perspective. 


I've adopted a personalized version of the CHOICE reviews approach to recommendations/star ratings:

***** = Essential, a.k.a. truly love, absolute must-read, buy it now
**** = Highly Recommended, a.k.a. this is a really good book; I would buy it as a gift
*** = Recommended, a.k.a. pretty good; worth reading
** = Optional, a.k.a. meh
* = Not Recommended; a.k.a. this is not a good book

The Apothecary

The Apothecary -

What is there to like?

▪ The first few chapters, devoted to Janie’s move to London and feeling out of place, are nicely done.

▪ Also in the first few chapters, attention is drawn to conditions in post-war Britain, which is important in its own right but also helps readers understand the protagonists' strong motivations for finding a way to stop the destructive power of nuclear bombs.

▪ Janie’s parents are drawn as caring and funny, and Janie has a good relationship with them, which is a strength in children’s literature, which can sometimes lean pretty heavily on the orphan trope, or else portrays parents as bumbling or distant.


What's not to like?

▪ This is a book that is trying to have it both ways—“it” being whether it is a story about magic or science. Ordinarily the distinction probably wouldn’t be worth noting, but the characters so strenuously object to the very idea that they are performing magic, saying NO, IT’S SCIENCE! and then offering quasi-pseudo-scientific explanations, that it draws attention to itself. And readers may be willing to play along with the idea to some extent, but most will reach a point at which this becomes silly—such as when a “Dark Force” is called forth, or when “the Quintessence” is released.

▪ Definite racial insensitivities. Jin Lo, the Chinese apothecary, does “a kung fu kick” and—I’m not even kidding—is described as “inscrutable.” Later, Janie and Benjamin are afloat in the Arctic Sea and are Rescued By The Natives!

▪ Using Russians and Germans as straight-up baddies in a book written in 2011 feels a shade off-kilter and lazy. While that might be expected in a book actually written in 1952 and therefore acceptable as a product of its time, this portrayal doesn’t need to be perpetuated further. And historical fiction that presents a more nuanced vision of “the other” in war is being written these days, and well—see Code Name Verity for an excellent example of WWII fiction (though, admittedly, for an older audience).


What made me pick it up?

Good cover design; I liked the title.


Overall Recommendation: Optional (Two stars is not a bad book; it's a "meh" book. This is a "meh" book.)