During the summer (probably into the fall as well), I’ll be reviewing some of the 2014 Rebecca Caudill nominees. First up is a historical fiction novel that takes place during the early part of the Cold War and mixes in some mystery and fantasy.
Author: Maile Meloy
Age group: upper middle grade
Genre: historical fiction
Synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Janie Scott has been told by her parents that they must suddenly move to London. The year is 1952, and fear of Communism dominates the culture, especially in the entertainment industry. As screenwriters, Janie’s parents go to London to work while Janie meets Benjamin, the fascinating son of the local apothecary. Benjamin wants to be a spy, and Janie accompanies him on a couple spying missions. Soon, they discover that Benjamin’s dad has been targeted by a local Russian spy, but before they can do anything to prevent it, the apothecary is kidnapped. Using a book of special “potions” the apothecary left behind, Janie and Benjamin set out to find the apothecary and his friends who, in turns out, are the only people who can stop an impending nuclear disaster.
This is one of those stories that made me ask, “How do people come up with these ideas?” Who would think to mix a bit of “magic” with espionage and the Cold War. This isn’t magic along the lines of Harry Potter, but more of a “what if you mixed x, y, and z, could you make this happen?”
The book is very well written. The characters are believable and likable. You do have to allow for some slightly unrealistic situations in order for the plot to develop. For example, Janie’s parents have to go away for a few nights to work on their next movie. They leave Janie home alone with only an old neighbor to check in on her. I don’t think that even in the 1950s, parents would have left an fourteen-year-old home alone overnight. However, it’s necessary for the plot so that Janie can delve into the task of finding the missing apothecary.
Overall, I think kids who like mysteries with a bit of magic will enjoy this story. The pacing is excellent, and I quickly flew through the story in a couple days.