Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

Ye toads and vipers! I love a heroine with a bad temper. Meet the newest in this latest book by Karen Cushman.

"I grew up in an alehouse, you wart-necked mammering clap dish." (p. 55)

Ah, that's our Meggy. It isn't easy being a country girl sent off to live with a father she never knew existed because her granny died and her mother doesn't want her around. Turns out her alchemist dad doesn't either, especially because she isn't a boy and apparently no help to him in his endeavors to transform metal into gold. Meggy is left to fend for herself in the big (and filthy) city of London. Meggy also walks using canes because of a physical disability from birth. All her life her granny took care of her. Now Meggy must figure out how to do it for herself.

In early Elizabethan England (1573) there are some who view Meggy's disability kindly and many others who thing she is cursed by God, possessed by the devil, or to be ridiculed. Meggy wears a tough skin for the heckling (and has some hilarious comebacks) so it turns out that being friendly and being a friend challenges her. She realizes that she needs friends since she has no family and this journey drives the story. One part of Meggy's character that I admire is her feelings towards her parents. They are not good people but Meggy comes to terms with who they are and what they did. A very mature response, but I also think it is in step with the time period.

This charming book clocks in at a slim 159 pages without the Author's Note. Hallelujah for short books! Cushman earned the Newbery and an Honor so she knows her craft. Alchemy and Meggy Swann is a solid, satisfying book. Perhaps someone will find errors with the historical accuracy or maybe think Meggy too lucky. I found the historical aspects interesting and Meggy charmingly more snarky than plucky. Plus it's funny and sad and suspenseful (did I mention the murder plot?)

The Author's Note provides more information on the time period, Meggy's disability, alchemy, ballads, and language. I think this would make a great book discussion selection for 5th - 8th graders.

For you keeping score at home, Joanna - 1 ; Librarian Confessions - 11.


Patti said...

I've been wanting to read this. So what do you think, another Newbery for Cushman?

joanna said...

Not really, but I haven't read nearly as many books as this time last year. I'm sure it will be on many Best Of lists.