cover image Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Karen Cushman, Author . Clarion $16 (167p) ISBN 978-0-547-2318

Cushman's (Catherine, Called Birdy ) newest novel has all the elements that have made her earlier books so beloved. With flawless historical prose, Cushman introduces Meggy Swann, a feisty, sharp-tongued girl just arrived in gritty Elizabethan London, who has had more than her share of hard knocks. Unwanted by both her parents, she describes herself as “the ugglesome crookleg, the four-featured cripple, the fearful, misshapen creature,” dependent on two “sticks” to hobble about. When Meggy is sent to live with her father, he is horrified to have to house and care for her—he wanted a son and an assistant. Meggy is equally unhappy until she tries her hand at her father's work: alchemy. While Cushman's story revolves around the potential magic and disappointing fraud of alchemy (and Meggy's father) as well as a murder plot, at its heart are relationships. Meggy must learn to open up to others to turn her life from loneliness and anger toward friendship and even joy. There is no unequivocally happy ending for Meggy, but a better life awaits her, and readers will gladly accompany her on the journey. Ages 10–14. (Apr.)