Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

Fans of Karen Cushman's earlier historical novels about young women living in historical England will enjoy her latest, Alchemy and Meggy Swann. Katherine Kellgren's audiobook narration (Listening Library; 4 hours) bring the characters and setting, already the strongest elements, into even greater relief. Kellgren makes 16th-century English sound like a perfectly natural style of dialogue.

Meggy Swann is a teenager with dislocated hips since birth. She walks, painfully, with the aid of two sticks. Her mother, a village alehouse keeper, never wanted her. Meggy hadn't even laid eyes on her father until he sent for her; his summons lands her in Elizabethan-era London. The rough, dangerous, noisy and stinking city is as much a character as Meggy -- and the city is actually a good match for her cantankerous attitude and inventively sharp tongue. "Ye toads and vipers!"

Meggy's father is an alchemist who sent for her only to have a free servant. He had no idea that she was a girl, not the boy he expected, nor that she was crippled. Since he wants nothing further to do with her, Meggy learns to make her own way. She has the help of Roger Oldham (Meggy calls him "Oldmeat") who is a young member of a theatre troupe. A lively choice for Grade 5 - 9.

Readalikes: The setting, brevity and grumpy protaganist make it most like Cushman's The Midwife's Apprentice. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz is also a good match. Readers wanting more of the theatre aspect might like The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding. Readers wanting more about early printing might like The Printer's Devil by Paul Bajoria. (Both of these last are set in slightly more recent times.)

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