Reviews of children's and young adult books old and new

Friday, July 2, 2010

Transformation and Alchemy

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

Meggy is sent to live with her father in London, she has never seen or even heard of her father spoken of so it was a surprise when she was summoned. Meggy's only friend is a goose named Louise. Meggy attributes this to the fact that she and Louise are both crippled and therefore considered useless or ever worse, cursed by the devil. When Meggy arrives in London she discovers two things, one that her father is completely devoted to his work of alchemy (trying to discover how to transform metal into gold) and that he does not care about her or anyone else. Meggy is forced to try and find her way around London alone and make her own way in the world. Along the way much to her surprise she makes friends, and finds the strength within herself to make her own transformation.

I was very excited to read this book because I am a big fan of Karen Cushman. Anyone who writes about Elizabethan England or the Middle Ages is alright by me. With that said though I was not blown away by this book. I liked it but it is not something I would want to read again. The story was well written and I like the message of taking responsibility for your own life and making things happen. But the character of Meggy was not that interesting to me. Meggy has a bad temper and feels worry for herself for being crippled. She is very unhappy to be in London and without her grandmother, who passed away. I think the more interesting story might have been in the small town Meggy was from with her grandmother, the grandmother seems like a much more interesting character. For that matter so does her mother, who we also never meet, and seems to be a hard but beautiful woman who runs the local alehouse. The character of Meggy's father is very one dimensional. He is focused on his work and needs to be funded for it to continue so he will do some questionable things. That is all he is, there is nothing more, and that was a bit disappointing. However, there are some great passages with colorful descriptions of London during the Elizabethan era and a bit of history cleverly thrown in that kids will read and soak up without realizing that they are learning. The author also gives some more information about the time period and alchemy in the back of the book along with other non-fiction to read if you wanted to know more.

I would say to start with some of Cushman's other work if you are new to this author, if you love that then read this one. If you are already a fan you will enjoy a new work but this is not a great introduction to what this author can write. Below is a video of the author talking about her book.


  1. I don't know why, but that cover really creeps me out. Sorry this was just a so-so read for you.

  2. I know what you mean about the cover, she does look slightly possessed.