Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman
The Newbery Medal winner for The Midwife’s Apprentice returns with a book set in Elizabethan London. Meggy has been summoned for by a father she has never met. When she arrives at his doorstep with only clothes and her lone friend, a goose, she is met with disdain and dismissal. It could be that she is a girl, but it probably also that Meggy can’t walk without using two crutches. She calls her gait “wabbling” and has spent her life hidden from sight at her mother’s inn. Now Meggy doesn’t have any choice but to head out into the streets of London to find food since her father has more important things to do than feed her. He is an alchemist searching for the secrets of transformation and perfection. When Meggy heads out into the streets, she makes more friends than she ever has had before, finds a young man who could be more than a friend, and allows readers to experience the colors, smells, and noises of life in England at this time.
Cushman has created a marvel here. It is a short novel filled with entrancing details about Meggy and her surroundings that never bogs down and moves along without any “wabbling.” Meggy is a great character. She is far from perfect which makes her very interesting. She is sharp-tongued and says her mind. She is brave but often frightened. She is scorned but also makes lasting friends. She is a wonderful, realistic enigma whose wide eyes make a great lens to see Elizabethan England through. Her growth throughout this book is truthful and lovely to experience. It is especially noteworthy in such a short book.
Beautifully written with a strong female heroine, Cushman is at the top of her game with this title. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Clarion Books.