Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Written by Karen Cushman
Review by Kathryn Johnson

Karen Cushman’s previous novels, including The Midwife’s Apprentice and Catherine, Called Birdy, have opened doors to distant times for young readers, using vivid, gripping scenes that invite them in, heart and soul. Her prose is spiked with emotion and gritty realism. Her characters are endearing without being saccharin. In her latest novel for children, Alchemy and Meggy Swann, Ms. Cushman proves again her flare for creating an adventure that tugs at the heart even as it entertains.

Heroine Meggy Swann, raised in a country village, is new to London, having been sent for by her father. But she isn’t what he’d hoped for, as she is lame and forced to “wabble about” painfully from place to place with the aid of homemade walking sticks, and appears incapable of aiding in his experiments in alchemy. Unwanted by her mother, scorned by her father, bitter at her lot in life, Meggy sets out to improve her life.

Although the challenges of surviving Elizabethan life are considerable—with its rogues, thieves, filth, and neighbors who taunt her as a cripple and therefore the work of the Devil—she rallies her wit and sharp tongue and tackles life with gusto. Entertaining, inspiring, steeped in realism and just plain great adventure—this is a novel young readers will soak up with enthusiasm.