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This book was a Cybils nominee for Middle Grade Fiction last year, in 2010.
Concerning Character: As one might glean from the title, this is the story of Meggy Swann, a girl in her early teens who comes to London to live with her father. Her gran, who mostly raised her, has died, and her mother has no use in her country tavern for a lame girl who must walk with the aid of sticks, and even then only painfully. So Meggy is sent to the house of Master Ambrose, an alchemist who cares only for his work. Left mostly to fend for herself when not helping in the laboratorium, Meggy learns that, far from being helpless and alone in London, she is quite capable and plenty smart enough to survive, and even thrive. I love stories about plucky heroines; Meggy certainly is one, and comes into her own in characteristically sharp-tongued and determined fashion over the course of the novel.
Recommended for Fans Of...: Historical fiction masters like Ann Rinaldi, Michael Cadnum, and Elizabeth Wein.
Themes & Things: One of the themes I like most in this book is the idea that when we get old enough to do so we make our own families--in contrast to the ones that we're born into and may or may not even get along with, even if we care about them, we also make our own lives and surround ourselves with people we love whom we've chosen to be with. Meggy ultimately finds friends, even family, in her father's erstwhile apprentice Roger, Roger's troupe of fellow players, and the printer Master Allyn. Opening one's heart is also a major theme here—along with the rewards of doing so, as well as the tragedy of not being able to do so. And, of course, Meggy's story also embodies the idea that a physical disability does not define a person or prevent them from accomplishing great things.
Review Copy Source: Purchased from independent bookstore
You can find Alchemy and Meggy Swann at an independent bookstore near you!