by Karen Cushman
Opening line: "'Ye toads and vipers,' the girl said, as her granny often had, 'ye toads and vipers,' and she snuffled a great snuffle that echoed in the empty room."
Is that not a marvelous opening sentence? And the rest of the book doesn't disappoint. I read Alchemy and Meggy Swann
right after All Clear
, and it was just what I needed. Light enough to not send me back into weeping fits and with enough substance that it didn't annoy me.
Meggy is a great main character. I couldn't help but love Meggy and feel for her as she finds her way through London. I believe that it's supposed to be Elizabethan, but the general sense of time is vague enough that it could really be just about any point from Tudor to Restoration England. (I'm sure you could date it more specifically, based on the players' laws on the point of being enacted. And it's very far from a criticism--I think the lack of tied-down detail allows a certain freedom of story and character.)
I really enjoyed that we got a story that wasn't about the nobility. I have no objection to stories about the nobility in general, but it's nice to get a different flavor. And I think it does tend to be an underrepresented area in mg/YA. It was also nice to see a story that wasn't about the nobility but also didn't have a main message of "Woe are us! We are all so poor and miserable and starving!" Granted, the characters lead difficult lives, often with the source of their livelihood extremely vulnerable. And yet, they're not simply mournful creatures. They do occasionally have fun!
Finally, it's a great glimpse into a lost world. Cushman's language perfectly conveys the patterns of long-ago speech without seeming so different as to be distancing or distracting. It was all beautifully done and I highly enjoyed it.
Book source: public library
Book information: Clarion books, 2010; mg/YA (I think that tolerant YA readers--i.e., the ones who don't immediately shake the dust of middle grade books from their feet--would enjoy this a lot, but there's nothing that I noticed to keep middle grade readers from enjoying it too. SLJ has it as grades 5-8.)
Other reviews:King County LibraryThe Hungry Readers