The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I can't tell if this will be the start of a series or not - the ending is wonderfully ambiguous (a good thing, I promise). This is the type of young-end YA book that blends adventure, magic and humor into a book that readers will enjoy and hope for more.
We start in LA, where Janie gets the feeling she's being followed. She is, but not because of anything she's done: her parents are outspoken dissenters about HUAC, forcing the family to leave the US for London. This part of the book glosses over the whole blacklist era, which may confuse those that know nothing about it. Once in London, the "real" book starts.
Janie is sent to a "traditional" school, with Latin and uniforms and posh girls, none of which Janie is prepared for. At the local Apothecary, she is given some pills for homesickness - and finds that his son, Benjamin, is crush-worthy. Benjamin (called "Figment" by her pun-loving parents) and Janie start to stalk/spy on the Russian father of a classmate, which leads them back to the shop just in time for strange men to invade and take Benjamin's father.
From there the book starts to explore various forms of magic (there's an avian exlir, tea that makes you tell the truth, an invisibility bath) and adventure (breaking out of jail, hiding out and stowing away on a boat heading to Nova Zembla). Harking back to the opening, the main thrust is the horrors of the nuclear race and ways in which to contain a bomb blast, yet it's all cloaked in this magic and the protection of the Apothecary's Pharmacopoeia. Because of this, I'm not sure readers will get what seems to be the underlying message about the Cold War. The bigger question is, does it matter?
ARC provided by publisher.