Cushman, Karen. Alchemy and Meggy Swann. Recorded by Katherine Kellgren. [Audiobook].New York: Listening Library, 2010. ISBN 030771022X.
2. PLOT SUMMARY
Margaret Swann’s life has been anything but easy. With the death of her beloved gran and her waddle, her mother has jumped at the chance to cart Meggy off to her father in London at his summons. But when she arrives as his door, he doesn’t want her either! Trying to navigate her father, the alchemist’s, mood; her only friend, a goose named Louise; the jovial nature of the former apprentice, Roger; and London’s streets on her walking sticks is going to be quite a dance! When Meggy learns that there’s a plot to poison a nobleman, she must decide between doing what is easy, and doing what she knows is right.
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
Books like these were often my favorites growing up. I enjoyed learning about the history of everyday people in a time period from the people (even make-believe) themselves, and I was excited to come across this author again after reading some of her books so many years ago. However, Meggy’s personality early on in the book nearly had me finding another book to read. While the time and people seem very accurately portrayed, it is very hard early on to find Margaret Swann very likeable at all. She’s mulish and seemingly spoiled, even though she mentions she’s had a hard life and hasn’t been given much. The descriptions of her dark room are very believable, but the streets and goings on outside her doors seem glossed over. We want Meggy to reconcile with her father, but it’s very clear, that like Meggy, his attitude and development are well out of our hands. Meggy’s growth and use of her strength to adapt to her surroundings and create a better life for herself are laudable, but even with his slightly altruistic gesture at the end, her father’s are too-little too-late. That’s not to say this book doesn’t have its high points. The songs Meggy sings are beautiful and gorgeously reproduced by Katherine Kellgren’s reading. Her accents and voice for Meggy feel true to the words and time period. The former apprentice Roger and the cast of actors and friends are lively and bring a sense of color to the piece. Even Meggy’s schemes to stop the poison plot are entertaining and keep you right with her, hoping that she can prevail in the end. The voices of the characters are slightly marred by heavy accenting that comes off as stereotypical - especially Meggy’s “ye toads and vipers,” but overall, it feels realistic and provides a quick read and even quicker insight into the poorer neighborhoods of the Elizabethan era.
4. REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
KIRKUS REVIEWS BEST BOOKS OF 2010
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF TEACHERS OF ENGLISH NOTABLE BOOK 2011
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL BEST BOOKS OF 2010
From BOOKLIST – “Writing with admirable economy and a lively ability to re-create the past believably, Cushman creates a memorable portrayal of a troubled, rather mulish girl who begins to use her strong will in positive ways.”
From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL – “Katherine Kellgren's lively reading of Karen Cushman's novel (Clarion, 2010) is flawless, capturing Meggy's feisty temperament in the period language. Her narration of a wide-range of accents if excellent, and she does a wonderful job singing the ballads that Meggy composes and sings.”
Gather other books about overcoming obstacles and coming of age:
• Clarke, Mary Stetson. THE IRON PEACOCK. ISBN 1887840672.
• Hesse, Karen. STOWAWAY. ISBN 0439305357.
Gather other Karen Cushman historical fiction books to read such as:
• CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY. ISBN 0547722184.
• THE MIDWIFE’S APPRENTICE. ISBN 0547722176.
• WILL SPARROW’S ROAD. ISBN 0547739621.