Thursday, September 29, 2011

Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Title:               Alchemy and Meggy Swann
Category:       Historical
Grade:            5-10
Author:          Karen Cushman
Publisher:       Clarion
Date:               2010
Pages:             157

Crippled Meggy Swann has been sent without fanfare to live with her reclusive scientist father after the death of her grandmother.  Her father, intent on discovering how to make gold, is disappointed both in Meggy’s disability and her gender, and quickly brushes her aside.  Meggy, who has always avoided contact with strangers, must learn to go among them in order to survive.  With the help of kind neighbors and her father’s friendly ex-servant, Roger, Meggy slowly begins to make a life for herself in London, but when she uncovers the unscrupulous truth of her father’s work, she and the local printer hatch a daring plot to expose her father’s business associates before they can destroy him.

Though Cushman has brought many charming and well-thought out characters to young readers, Meggy Swann was a bit of a disappointment.  The book is well-written and the plot relatively engaging, but the protagonist is extremely difficult to like.  She is negative, temperamental, and extremely rude to the people to try to help her.  While some of this is understandable, finding enough about her to redeem her in a reader’s eyes can be challenging, and though I enjoyed some of the later twists and turns of the book, I was not really disposed to celebrate Meggy’s eventual successes and friendships.  A fair book, but not Cushman’s best.


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