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Janie wasn’t happy about moving from Hollywood to England in the middle of 9th grade, but her family was being spied on – by US agents! Her parents were just movie script writers, believing that more people should have a chance at a better life, now that they all survived World War II.
As the Cold War deepened in 1952, anyone thought to have Communist ideas was suspect and could be “blacklisted” and kept from working, especially in the entertainment industry. So it’s off to London to work on a BBC television series under assumed names, away from orange trees and sunny beaches to gloomy skies and war-scarred city buildings.
Her new school is awful – uniforms and Latin and medieval history. Everyone huddles up with their friends except Benjamin, who lives with his father at the apothecary shop near her apartment and Sergei, whose father works at the Soviet Embassy.
When Benjamin’s father receives a note that a Chinese chemist has been captured, he scarcely has time to hide Benjamin and Janie and an old book in a secret room before the shop is invaded and he is kidnapped! Notes in the Pharmacopoeia lead them to a special herbal garden, to an old man who can read its Latin and Greek instructions for strange elixirs and warnings about risky transformations, like the tincture that allows a human to change into a bird and back again.
But the teens can’t stay in the garden - whoever took Benjamin’s father wants the Pharmacopoeia and won’t rest until they have it. On the run, arrested and questioned, Janie and Benjamin must escape again and again. Who can they trust? Their rich schoolmate Sarah? Mr. Danby, their Latin teacher and former prisoner-of-war? Sergei and his father?
Is it a foreign government that wants the Pharmacopoeia’s secrets? Someone wanting wealth or immortality or power? It will take all of Janie and Benjamin’s bravery and cleverness to keep this special knowledge of spells and magic out of the wrong hands.
Recommended by: Katy Manck, Librarian-at-Large (retired academic/corporate/school librarian), Gilmer, Texas, USA
It's 1952 and the Scott family has moved unexpectedly from Los Angeles to London. There, fourteen-year-old Janie gets a homesickness cure from the neighborhood apothecary and becomes fascinated by his defiant son, Benjamin Burrows, who dreams of becoming a spy. When Benjamin's father disappears, Janie and Benjamin must uncover the secrets of the apothecary's ancient book in order to find him, all while keeping those secrets out of the hands of Russian spies. Discovering transformative elixirs they never imagined could exist, Janie and Benjamin embark on a dangerous race to save the apothecary and prevent impending nuclear disaster.
Although the start is slow, once the reader gets to know the characters, the pace of the action will make this a difficult book to put down
Hook: “His hands disappeared and became wings. Then everything I recognized as Benjamin was gone.”
Recommended by: Alice Cyphers, Librarian, Pennsylvania, USA