Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A 16th Century Heroine
Review: Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman is a middle grade fiction book set in Elizabethan London.  Much like Cushman’s Newberry Honor winning  book, Catherine, Called Birdy, this book features old world musings, setting, and characters.  What is very different about this book was the main character who has a disability and a cast of other characters who are some likable and some loathsome.   The book tells the short adventure of a young girl, Meggy Swann.

Meggy Swan makes her way through life using rudimentary crutches that leave her winded and sore.  She has a sharp wit and good humor, which she needs to make her way in the dirty and crude world of London in the 16th century.  Meggy has come to London to be with her father, an alchemist, who she hasn’t met until now.  Not only are the London streets cruel, her father is quite unkind as are many neighbors and strangers who fear the young disabled girl, fearing that she is a wicked girl scarred with her disabled legs.  Meggy finally does find a few friends including her father’s former apprentice, Roger.  The adventure in London is full of twists and turns, good times, but mostly bad times, plus humor and quick witted remarks.

I am not sure what I expected when I began this book, but it was a short read full of humor and period details.  Much of the story was told in dialogue, so at time it was somewhat slow.  It was great to see a character with a major disability played as a strong and beautiful young girl like Meggy.  I found myself, often needing to look up words from the book and trying to picture the scenes in my head.  I don’t know a lot about the time period so it was more interesting to me than distracting.  While I enjoyed the book, I found it not as wonderful as Cushman’s original favorite, Catherine Called Birdy.  That being said, if you liked Catherine, you will find this a good read.  I do have to say the cover isn’t too inspiring, or maybe just not my style. If you do enjoy period reads, strong female characters, and books by Newberry honor winners, this is a book you should check out.

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